Nearly two million people registered to vote in the election, initially scheduled to take place on December 27, but delayed because more time was needed for the distribution of ballots and the training of electoral agents, the United Nations said.
Voting remained peaceful throughout the day, even though some logistical issues were reported.
At least two people were killed and a dozen injured two weeks earlier in violence during the referendum on the new constitution, which voters overwhelmingly approved.
Of the 30 candidates running for the presidency, the top contenders are considered to be former prime ministers Martin Ziguele and Anicet-Georges Dologuélé and independent candidate Karim Meckassoua. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who has served since 2014, cannot participate in the election.
A ‘daunting task’
The National Election Authority will announce the preliminary results in the coming days. They have to be confirmed by the country’s Constitutional Court to become official. If a single candidate doesn’t win majority, given the large number of contenders, a second round of voting is likely to take place on January 31.
“Whoever wins will have the daunting task to try to change the equation in the country,” said Onanga-Anyanga. “Overwhelmingly what people are saying is, they want the new leadership to govern them better; they want a government that will be able to reconcile them.”
In 2013, mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from the government of former President Francois Bozize, fueling reprisals from Christian anti-balaka militias.
Pope Francis, who visited the country in November, called for Christians and Muslims to end the atrocities and live in peace.
Close to one million people have been displaced in the brutal violence and more than half of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.
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