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Boycott by Gbagbo party clouds Ivory Coast polls

Text by Julien PEYRON

Latest update : 2012-01-09

The party of Ivory Coast's ousted president Laurent Gbagbo is boycotting parliamentary polls that will inevitably hand power to supporters of his successor, Alassane Ouattara, underscoring deep divisions after a bloody post-election conflict.

Ivory Coast holds parliamentary elections on Sunday, just over a year after the disputed November 2010 presidential poll.

The Ivorian People’s Front (FPI) of deposed leader Laurent Gbagbo is boycotting the vote, leading to fears that low voter turnout could undermine the elections, which are seen as a vital part of the fractured country’s reconciliation process.

Stanislas Ndayishimiye, correspondent for RFI in Ivory Coast, said the election campaigns of those parties still involved were so muted they were almost invisible.

“You would hardly think there was a campaign at all,” he said. “It is nothing like last year’s presidential campaign, when virtually the whole country turned out to vote.

“There are few posters up and candidates are conducting their campaigns on the quiet, even those from the big parties.”

Gbagbo overthrown

Following the disputed November 2010 presidential election, the international community came out in favour of Alassane Ouattara, recognising him as the legitimate winner.

But incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo clung desperately to power until his ouster by forces loyal to Ouattara in April ended a full-blown armed conflict that split the country in two.

Gbagbo was last week transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, prompting his Ivorian People’s Front (FPI) to pull out of the elections.

And without FPI involvement, a big victory for Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) party and its allies is a foregone conclusion.

Only two main parties remain in the game: the RDR and former President Henri Konan Bedie’s Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), two parties that are allied and by and large singing from the same hymn sheet.

“Even though they are not overtly doing battle with each other, any contest between these two is essentially a friendly fight,” said Ndayishimiye.

“The main issue in this election is going to be the level of participation,” said Ndayishimiye. “If the turnout is less than 50 percent – as forecast – it would demonstrate a clear lack of interest among the population. Remember that 80 percent of voters turned out for last year’s presidential election.”

A need for ‘real justice’

Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa exporter, has experienced a period of relative stability and moderate economic growth in the last few months.

The head of the UN military mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) Bert Koenders said he hoped that the elections could be “a positive step towards reconciliation” after the bloodshed and uncertainty that followed Gbagbo’s refusal to step down.

But his optimism is not shared by Salvatore Sagues, West Africa researcher for Amnesty International.

“Rebuilding this country will not be achieved simply by electing a new parliament and the formation of a new government,” he said.

Above all, said Sagues, Ivorians need evidence that justice is being served “and especially on those [Ouattara supporters] who came out as the winners”. Human rights groups say more than 3,000 civilians were killed in atrocities allegedly committed by both sides during the six-month conflict.

There is a growing feeling in Ivory Coast that only Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters have been the subject of any kind of justice, despite accusations of crimes committed by troops loyal to Ouattara against civilians.

“Transferring Gbagbo to the ICC is good news for Ivory Coast,” said Sagues. “But there can be no reconciliation without real justice on both sides. Only this can prevent any future violence from erupting.”

And despite the recent calm, tensions remain. Three people were killed on Wednesday December 7 in a rocket attack at Grand-Lahou in the south of the country.

Date created : 2011-12-09

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