BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — A former prime minister who placed second in the first round of balloting has won Central African Republic's presidential runoff vote, the national election body announced Saturday, and he inherits the enormous task of trying to restore order in a country where heavily armed rebel groups still control large swaths of territory.
Faustin Archange Touadera, 58, earned nearly 63 percent of the vote held Feb. 14, according to provisional results announced Saturday by Marie-Madeleine Hoornaert N'Kouet, president of the national election authority. He bested Anicet Georges Dologuele, another former prime minister who earned the most votes in the first round and had been endorsed by the third-place finisher.
The turnout for the runoff, which was paired with legislative elections, was 61 percent, N'Kouet said. The constitutional court has a week to validate the results.
Touadera served as prime minister for Francois Bozize, the president of a decade who was toppled by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition in 2013. The Seleka installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, as head of state that year, but widespread human rights abuses prompted reprisal attacks from Christian militia fighters known as the anti-Balaka.
Djotodia stepped down in early 2014 under intense international pressure, and the country has been run by a transitional government until now.
Many hope the vote will strengthen a tentative peace after more than two years of sectarian fighting left untold thousands dead and forced nearly 500,000 people to flee to neighboring countries.
Both candidates had run on platforms of unifying the country and solidifying the recent peace gains made since the visit of Pope Francis in November.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Feb. 10, Touadera said he wanted to prioritize reconciliation and disarmament.
"These elections are important but they are not the only step out of this crisis," he said. "We have to create the conditions for dialogue between the two communities. We will do everything we can so that Central Africans can live together in Central African Republic."
A mathematics professor and university official, Touadera drew popular support in large part because he remained in Bangui throughout the conflict that erupted in late 2013. Many supporters said they felt he was more in tune with the hardships of Central Africans than his rival Dologuele, who has worked abroad for a number of international financial organizations.
Others, though, have expressed concern that he may be too closely aligned to former president Bozize.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.