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Ivorian polls close after peaceful vote

Guillaume Guguen, France 24 | Voters line up at a polling station in Abidjan’s Yopougon neighbourhood.

Ivory Coast's election commission extended voting in Sunday's presidential poll after logistical problems in many areas delayed the start of the vote, seen as crucial to turning the page on a decade-long political crisis and a civil war in 2011.


President Alassane Ouattara, whose leadership has helped the West African nation re-emerge as a rising economic star on the continent, is facing a divided opposition and is heavily favoured to win re-election.

However, there were concerns that a boycott by part of the opposition coupled with voter apathy could result in low turnout.

As a commodities crash has caused other African economies to crumble, investors have flooded into the world's top cocoa grower, drawn by growth around 9 percent over the past three years. They are likely to be reassured by the vote, which observers said was overwhelmingly free of violence.

"For the moment we are quite satisfied that everything is going ahead without any major incidents," said Mariam Dao Gabela, chairperson of the Peace-CI civil society elections observer project.

More than 6 million Ivorians are registered to vote at some 20,000 polling stations nationwide.

"We must ensure that we emerge from this election with peace and serenity and unite even more in order to take on the further challenges awaiting the nation," Ouattara said after voting in the Cocody district of the commercial capital Abidjan.

Voting, which was officially set to have begun at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT), was delayed in many areas by the late arrival of materials, including ballots and ballot boxes.

An hour after the official start time, just 57 percent of polling stations were open, according to the POECI civil society observer platform. That had risen to 85 percent by 9.30 a.m.

Nearly a third of computer tablets, part of new technology introduced to verify voters' identities, also failed at some point during election day, POECI said.

As a result of the problems, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) prolonged voting by two hours to 7 p.m. in voting centres affected by the delays. Meanwhile, polling stations that opened on time began counting ballots.

Few expect serious violence to mar the election, which sees voters with a choice of seven candidates for the presidency. But tens of thousands of soldiers, police and gendarmes have been deployed across the country to secure the vote.

All eyes on turnout

Voter turnout will be critical to legitimising Ouattara's mandate if he wins as expected.

Roughly 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2010. And while Ouattara said he was confident of a high level of participation, most voters and observers said the crowds were smaller on Sunday.

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Leaders of a break-away faction of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the party of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo, have called for a boycott of the election.

Gbagbo's refusal to recognise Ouattara's 2010 poll victory sparked the civil war. Gbagbo himself is now in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity.

The FPI hardliners have been joined by three candidates, including former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, who pulled out of the vote, saying the process was stacked in Ouattara's favour.

Polling stations in pro-Gbagbo villages in the former president's home region around the southwestern cocoa hub of Gagnoa were devoid of voters.

"My president is in prison," said Yves Titiro, a cocoa farmer in the village of Zebizekou, near Gagnoa. "In the north there will be an election, but it has nothing to do with us

The boycott is a challenge to Ouattara's efforts to mobilise voters. But it is also a test for his main opponent, FPI president Pascal Affi N'Guessan, who is leading his party's
moderates in their first poll participation since 2010.

N'Guessan has criticised Ouattara for failing to foster post-war reconciliation and has chastised the FPI's own hardliners for endangering the party's future with their call for a boycott.

"I voted for the best one, and I can tell you it was Affi," said Elie Vakou, a voter in the mainly pro-Gbagbo Sicogie neighbourhood of Abidjan's Yopougon district. "If people vote for Affi, he can win and then free Gbagbo."


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