Fury in Paris as Ivorian expats face chaos at polling stations
Several polling stations set up for Ivorian expats in the Paris region failed to open Sunday, sparking anger among voters. While opposition members say the poll was rigged, electoral officials are adamant all went smoothly.
Even as voters in Ivory Coast enjoyed a relatively smooth and peaceful election day on Sunday, fellow Ivorians living in France, it seems, had a harder time casting their ballots in the country’s first presidential election in ten years.
Roughly 11,500 voters, some with dual French and Ivorian nationality, were registered to vote in one of the 28 polling stations in the Paris metropolitan area. Among them, some 500 gathered outside the Ivorian consulate in French capital’s swanky 16th district.
But several hours after the official start of voting, not one ballot had been cast. Ernest Bayoro said he had been trying to vote for the past five hours. “I was summoned to vote here, then told to go and vote in Saint-Denis, where they sent me to Vitry, then on to Juvisy, and finally back here! Clearly, I won’t get a chance to vote,” he said.
Policemen deployed around the consulate were busy preventing disgruntled voters from entering the building. According to the Independent Electoral Commission of France, other polling stations in the northern suburbs of Nanterre and Saint-Denis were forced to shut after angry voters tried to break in.
Suspicions of fraud
In the long line stretching outside the consulate, the optimism and enthusiasm of voters who had waited ten years for this day soon gave way to anger. Standing at the front of the queue, Ibrahim Bamba was the first to arrive early on Sunday morning. “I’m 46, it’s the first time I vote and they won’t let me! Only three people have got past the gate this morning and the ballot boxes are already full!” he shouted, waving his electoral card.
After a long wait the gate opened at last, but only to let in a few journalists. A damaged ballot box lay on the table. It had been hurled out of the window by a member of the opposition RDR party of presidential candidate Alassandre Ouattara. “When I arrived this morning it already had some ballots in it, before polls opened! I threw it out of the window for the people outside to know what had happened,” said Bakayoko, an RDR supporter who goes by one name.
When contacted by France24.com later in the day, Mamadou Sylla, the president of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the Paris region, denied there had been any ballot stuffing. Another CEI official, who declined to be named, said the ballot box contained votes cast by election observers earlier Sunday.
But Ouattara’s backers were not the only ones to walk out of the polling stations fuming. Supporters of the other main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, also complained about the poll’s organization. “There were too many irregularities, the vote has to be cancelled,” said Céline Yassine, who represented the party of former president Henri Konan-Bedie.
While acknowledging some problems with the vote around the French capital, an Independent Electoral Commission official at the Paris Embassy was keen to downplay their importance relative to the overall election. “The most important thing is that the polls have gone well outside France,” he said. “It is true that some polling stations around Paris had to close, but we’re looking for a way to have voters cast their ballots elsewhere”.