By Mathieu Bonkoungou
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Former Prime Minister Roch Marc Kabore appeared to have a strong lead on Monday as results poured in from an election to choose the first new president in decades in Burkina Faso.
Provisional results from around 41 percent of the West African country's communes showed that Kabore had 54 percent of the vote against 29 percent for Zephirin Diabre, a former finance minister, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Kabore was prime minister and president of the National Assembly under longtime leader Blaise Compaore who was toppled by an uprising in October 2014 after ruling for 27 years.
Diabre was minister of finance in the 1990s in Burkina Faso, an exporter of gold and cotton but largely impoverished, before stepped down to go into opposition.
Sunday's peaceful election could serve as an example for democratic transition in Africa, where veteran rulers in Burundi and Congo Republic have this year changed the constitution to set up a fresh term in office for themselves.
"The people of Burkina Faso have once more shown their profound attachment to democracy by holding a peaceful vote," said Michaelle Jean, secretary general of the International Francophonie organisation.
"I invite all the candidates and political parties, but also the Burkinabe population, to respect the results," she said in a statement.
The election represents a pivotal moment for a nation ruled by leaders who came to power in coups for most of its history since independence from France in 1960.
Compaore seized power in a coup, ruled for 27 years and won four elections, all of which were criticised as unfair. He was toppled by protests when he tried to change the constitution to extend his rule even further.
Kabore heads the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), made up of disaffected allies of Compaore who left the party months before he stood down. Diabre leads the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), which was the formal opposition.
Analysts say that of the 14 candidates who ran only Kabore and Diabre stand a real chance of winning and a second round of voting may be on the cards. A parallel election for the National Assembly also took place on Sunday.
Many people say their priority is for the new president to promote economic growth in the impoverished, landlocked country.
The election was pushed back from Oct. 11 because of an abortive coup in September by members of the elite presidential guard, in which transitional President Michel Kafando and his prime minister were taken hostage.
That coup cost more than $50 million in lost revenue, trimming growth by 0.3 percentage points. The guard has since been disbanded. Kafando will step down once a new leader is sworn in. [nL8N127336]
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Richard Balmforth)