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All eyes on vote count after historic Ivory Coast poll

Video by Tatiana MOSSOT , Willy BRACCIANO

Text by Guillaume GUGUEN

Latest update : 2010-12-03

Ivorians await the results of Sunday’s historic presidential election, amid fears that the outcome could lead to disputes and street clashes. Election observers said voters turned out in mass for a peaceful election day on Sunday.

After the closure of polling stations in Ivory Coast’s landmark presidential election on Sunday, the country anxiously awaits the election results amid fears that the former West African powerhouse could be plunged into another round of violence if the outcome is contested.

Having witnessed six postponements in five years, voters finally cast their ballots on Sunday in the country’s first presidential election in a decade, which observers say proceeded without violent incidents.

Across the divided country, millions flocked to polling stations to cast their vote under the watchful eyes of international peacekeepers. Turnout was so high that many polling stations were ordered to remain open after the scheduled 5pm close time.

Standing in the line at a polling station in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, Bambanaoua, a 34-year-old hairdresser, said she had arrived at 4 a.m. local time. "I came with my family - my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins ... everyone is here. Today, we do not work, we vote. It’s a day for celebrating.”

For many Ivorians and members of the international community, this was also a day of trepidation. Sunday’s election was widely seen as Ivory Coast’s best chance to resolve years of instability following a bitter civil war that split the country in two.

But there are also fears that the election results could trigger violence and a new period of unrest. Some residents have been stocking up on food and fuel, fearing riots or street clashes if candidates dispute the election results.

In the past two presidential elections, the announcement of results led to an outbreak of violence in the country.

Once considered one of West Africa’s most stable, prosperous nations, Ivory Coast has been mired in a political crisis triggered by a 2002 coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo, who is one of the leading candidates in Sunday’s poll.

But observers said Sunday's vote proceeded in an atmosphere of calm. Independent Electoral Commission’s president, Youssout Bakayoko, congratulated his countrymen for participating in a "historic moment" that took place "in complete peace".

Old rivals face off in historic poll

An estimated 5.7 million Ivorians were eligible to cast their ballots, choosing between 14 candidates, including three favourites: Gbagbo of the ruling FPI (Ivorian Popular Front) party, Alassane Ouattara of the RDR (Rally of Republicans) and Henri Konan Bedie of the PDCI (Democratic Party of Ivory Coast).

The three men are familiar figures on the Ivorian political scene. Ouattara is a former prime minister and Bedie was president before he was deposed by a military coup on Christmas Eve in 1999.

Ouattara, a former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is a popular figure in the pro-rebel north. He was barred from running for the presidency in 1995 and 2000 on the grounds of his “dubious nationality” or identity, a contentious issue in this once famously multicultural nation.

Ivorian presidential poll in figures

 

- 14 candidates vying for the Ivorian presidency

- More than 5.7 million voter and identity cards distributed before the poll

- 20,000 polling stations across the country

- 200 billion CFA francs (304 million euros) spent on the election. The figure is expected to rise, making it the most expensive election in African history.

- The EU has sent 120 election observers to monitor the electoral process

- 500 UN peacekeepers will join the 8,650 UN troops already deployed in the country

- Nearly 2,000 foreign journalists expected in the country to cover the first round

But many Ivorians would like to bury the troubled past and express little appetite for revisiting once controversial issues.

At a polling station in Abidjan, Guitta, a 31-year-old trader, noted that on Sunday, "For the first time, everyone wanted to get up early,” to vote. “People are tired and want a president who can finally work. We can not build the country on palaver and war. This Sunday should be a day of joy and peace, not stress."

Tight security, increased troop presence

Since the start of the campaign, thousands of security troops have been stationed at strategic points across the city and on its major roads.

An international troop presence includes around 12,000 soldiers of the United Nations Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) assisted by 800 French troops serving under "Operation Licorne" (Operation Unicorn).

Since Friday, the UN mission has increased the number of its troops in Abidjan, home to almost a third of the country’s population. In the northern former rebel stronghold and the troubled west, hundreds of additional peacekeepers have also been mobilised.

The main sources of concern are the manual and electronic counting of votes and the communication between the 20,000 polling stations and the 415 local election commissions.

Despite recent polls giving Gbagbo the edge in the first round, observers are struggling to make any predictions. The major parties have not competed since the municipal elections of March 2001.

The country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has three days to announce the results. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first round, voters will again be called to the polls in late November for a second round.

Date created : 2010-10-31

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