Michel Djotodia, whose rebel coalition Seleka seized power in the Central African Republic last month, has been elected interim president by the national transitional council.
Djotodia, who had proclaimed himself president after his troops seized the capital, Bangui on March 24, was the only candidate in the vote held during the opening minutes of the council's first session on Saturday.
The interim president is to rule for no longer than 18 months, during which time the 105-member transitional body will act as a constituent assembly.
The council includes Seleka officials, members of the ousted administration as well as civil society representatives.
A diplomat speaking to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity described the election as a move that was needed "to give a veneer of legitimacy" to Djotodia's rule.
The country's neighbours and Western partners have warned they could not recognise Djotodia's rule but have also conspicuously stopped short of supporting the return of ousted leader Francois Bozize.
Relatively little is known about the new strongman of the landlocked nation, which harbours huge but largely untapped mineral wealth and remains one of the world's least developed countries.
After several years as a civil servant and diplomat he turned to rebellion and founded an armed movement in 2005, two years after Bozize seized power in a coup.