Voters in Burkina Faso lined up for parliamentary and municipal elections on Sunday that come after clashes and army mutinies shook the president's regime and saw him dissolving the government and removing the country's security chiefs last year.
Opposition leaders hope to end the supremacy of the Congress for Democracy and progress (CDP) that has been ruling Burkina Faso for 20 years. The word "change" dominated two weeks of heavy campaigning.
`'This is where I refused to cast my ballot two years ago, but today I have a voting card and I am voting for change," said the leader of the opposition, Stanislas Benewinde Sankara, after casting his vote in his hometown of Yako some 120 kilometers (74 miles) north of the capital, Ouagadougou. He had refused to cast a ballot in the 2010 presidential elections because of what he said were unreliable voting cards, but opposition leaders fought to obtain biometric voting this year to minimize the chances of fraud.
More than 6,000 candidates are competing for 127 seats in parliament. Some 4 million voters have registered for the elections held at more than 14,600 polling stations across Burkina Faso.
Uprisings began in the impoverished West African nation in late February 2011 when students protested over accusations that one of their own was mistreated while in custody and died. The government said he had meningitis.
The unrest spread across Burkina Faso for months. Soldiers started a mutiny that threatened President Blaise Compaore's 24-year rule. The president then tried to stem the unrest by dissolving the government and removing the country's security chiefs.
Nearly 350 soldiers are being prosecuted for the mutinies and 600 others had been removed from the army following the unrest. The country also fired more than 100 policemen for being involved, and for looting weapons, food and uniforms from a military camp.
This year, the country has seen ethnic clashes in its south, and along its border with Mali that have killed at least 100 people.
Opposition leaders hope to reverse the majority at the parliament to prevent Compaore and his party from amending the constitution to allow him to run in the next presidential election in 2015.
`'The elections are important because they are used to gauge democracy and governance in the country,"Compaore said after casting his ballot this morning.
The vote Sunday was mostly calm, but in the southwest city of Banfora, some polling stations were destroyed by angry voters after a court invalidated the ruling party candidates.