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Electoral Commission Officials Arrested in Central African Republic

President Francois Bozize gives a thumbs up after voting on January 23, 2011
President Francois Bozize gives a thumbs up after voting on January 23, 2011

Three electoral commission officials in the Central African Republic have been arrested as part of a fraud investigation following the president's re-election last month.

Central African Republic held presidential and legislative polls on January 23. According to provisional results released by the electoral commission, President Francois Bozize won re-election with more than 66 percent of the ballots cast.

However, his three leading rival candidates are contesting the results before the constitutional court on grounds of massive fraud, calling the polls a "masquerade."

The opposition coalition includes a former prime minister, a former defense minister and former president, Ange-Felix Patasse, whom Mr. Bozize overthrew in a 2003 coup.

Mr. Patasse returned to the Central African Republic to contest this election and, according to provisional results, finished second with just over 20 percent of the vote.

The opposition has also taken electoral commission president, Joseph Binguimale, to court in the capital, Bangui, on charges of electoral fraud.

Binguimale says he did not do anything wrong and is surprised by the allegations of fraud.

Binguimale says the electoral commission respected all of the anti-fraud measures imposed upon it. He says there were no problems with the presidential election. He says some ballots for the legislative election were not filled out correctly at approximately 900 polling stations and are being contested before the constitutional court. However, he says, they did not have any reports of polling stations not opening or ballots disappearing.

The opposition said in a press release this week that Binguimale deliberately omitted results from more than 1,200 polling stations, or 27 percent of total ballots cast.

Authorities arrested two vote-counting commission members and a regional electoral commission head this week as part of the investigation.

The polls were delayed several times, in part because the electoral commission said it was not ready, in part because of a continuing rebellion in the north and fighting in the east between the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army and government troops supported by Ugandan soldiers.

Analysts and international leaders hoped the polls would restore stability to the underdeveloped, coup-ridden country. However, challenges to the results have raised concerns about continuing insecurity that has already displaced thousands.