Ivory Coast officials prepared to tally results Sunday after a tense presidential ballot marked by an opposition boycott and protests over President Alassane’s Ouattara bid for a third term.
Scattered protests, clashes, vandalised voting material and some closed polling stations were reported mostly in opposition strongholds during Saturday’s election although Ouattara had called for calm and his party was expecting a win.
At least 30 died in clashes in the lead-up to the vote, reviving fears for many Ivorians over a repeat of the West African nation’s 2010-2011 post-election crisis when 3,000 people were killed.
Tensions erupted in August when Ouattara, in power for ten years, announced he would run for a third term, angering opposition leaders who dismissed it as an unconstitutional “electoral coup”.
Opposition leader Henri Konan Bedie, an old Ouattara adversary, had called for an active boycott and a campaign of civil disobedience to halt or disrupt the election. “October 31 was not the deluge as the leaders of the opposition forecast,” Adama Bictogo, a senior ruling party official, said after the election.
“The popular will was expressed and all the opposition did for months was defend the idea of not holding elections.” Electoral officials have up to five days to release the results and it was not clear when the CEI election commission planned an announcement.
– Opposition cries foul –
But the opposition has already dismissed it as a failure.
Several opposition figures, including former rebel chief Guillaume Soro, took to social media to say they no longer recognised Ouattara as president.
“The electoral coup has been a failure. The Ivorian people succeeded in halting this election,” opposition candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan told a news conference at Bedie’s residence.
Opposition party officials were expected to hold a press conference on Sunday to announce their next steps. The tense Ivorian election is another test for a region where Nigeria was buffeted by widespread protests, Mali soldiers ousted the president and Islamist militants are gaining a foothold.
Ouattara, 78, had said he would step aside after his second term to make way for a new generation, but the sudden death of his chosen successor led him to step in for a third term. The Ivorian leader says a constitutional court ruling approved his third term, allowing him to reset the country’s two-term presidential limit after a 2016 reform.
Bedie, 86, and other opposition leaders had accused the electoral commission and the constitutional court of favouring the government, making a fair vote impossible. The weeks before the election saw clashes, mainly between local ethnic groups close to the opposition and Dioula communities seen as loyal to the president, himself a Muslim from the north.
The country’s political feuds are often linked with ethnic identities and regional loyalties. Ivory Coast was emerging from a civil war in 2002 and the country was split in two, the north held by rebels and the south by forces of then president Laurent Gbagbo.
Ouattara won a long-postponed election in 2010 although Gbagbo refused to accept defeat. After battles in Abidjan, French forces intervened to help Ouattara loyalists oust the former president. [AFP]