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Low voter turnout in Ivorian parliamentary elections

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-12-12

Ivorians voted Sunday in parliamentary elections amid a boycott by the party of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo. Turnout was much lower than in the disputed presidential election of 2010, the outcome of which plunged the country into turmoil.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara made a personal call to his countrymen to vote on Sunday as low turnout in parliamentary elections threatened to undermine his efforts to reconcile a deeply divided country.

At noon on Sunday it was evident that turnout was going to be far below the 80% that participated in last November’s disputed presidential election, which brought the country to the brink of civil war. The vote has been boycotted by the party of deposed former president Laurent Gbagbo, who is currently awaiting trial at The Hague in connection with the post-election violence of 2010.

“Calm reigns in all the polling stations I have seen today,” said Lamine, in Abidjan, on FRANCE 24’s Observers website dedicated to the Ivorian elections (in French). “Voters are arriving in dribs and drabs and other polling stations are opening very late.”

“It’s absolutely deserted here” concurred Ghislaine, another observer at the same polling station at Sainte-Marie secondary school in the Cocody district of the city.

And at noon observer Lasswattara reported that polling stations were "virtually empty". So much so that “here in the Yopougon district of Abidjan activists from Ouattara’s RDR party are using megaphones to call on people to vote,” he wrote on the site. “It is aggravating to those people who have no intention of going to the polls.”

Ouattara needs parliamentary majority

The low turnout reflects the decision by Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party, whose support base was the largely Christian south of the country, to boycott the vote.

The FPI has described Gbagbo's transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague last week as a “political kidnapping,” and denounced what they call "victor's justice".

Illiteracy and low education has also played a part in keeping people away from the polling stations. At the Abobo polling station in Abidjan, a town hall spokesman told FRANCE 24’s Observers that many people believed that parliamentary elections were less important than presidential votes.

He said: “Those voters I have spoken with during the campaigning period told me that they had made the effort during the presidential vote last year, that they voted for Alassane Ouattara and that now as leader he can do whatever he likes.

“They don’t understand that he will not be able to govern if he does not have a strong parliamentary majority, that it is parliament that debates and votes on laws, not the president himself.

"The election campaign was also too short [one week from December 2 to December 9] to get people out to vote.”
The path to national reconciliation
Despite the apathy and the tensions, Ivory Coast was mostly calm, a far cry from last year’s disputed election, in which Gbagbo refused to cede power and was eventually forced from office in April by rebel fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara.
Ouattara’s support base comes from the Muslim north, and the continued presence of his former rebel fighters on the streets of southern cities such as Abidjan is an ongoing source of frustration for a civilian population subjected to growing corruption in the form of protection rackets.
Observer “Magnaled”, who works in haulage in Abidjan, reported that businesses in the city were at “the end of their tether.”
“We are forced to pay 15,000 francs CFA (24 euros) per week per vehicle to armed men who have the liberty of the city,” he writes. “We can drive freely on the main roads, but on secondary roads they stop our vehicles systematically. Meanwhile, banana traders are on strike because these men are demanding 7,000 francs (11 euros) per load.”
Ouattara faces a daunting task. He needs to reconcile a deeply divided country and to integrate the former rebels who fought for him with the country’s pro-Gbagbo armed forces.
He also needs to revive the country’s economy – which shrank 6% this year – while Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer and potentially one of Africa’s wealthier nations.
But without firm participation from the country’s frustrated electorate, bringing together this fractured country will be an uphill struggle.


Date created : 2011-12-11

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