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COTE D'IVOIRE: Observers, opposition wary of Gbagbo's rush to elections

DAKAR, 7 August 2007 (IRIN) - President Laurent Gbagbo’s recent announcement that the crisis-ravaged country will be able to hold general elections before the end of the year has been met with scepticism and concern.

“It’s extremely unlikely it would be possible to complete the identification process or to prepare electoral lists for elections in December,” Daniel Balint-Kurti, West Africa researcher with the London-based think tank Chatham House told IRIN.

“[Gbagbo’s] speech raises as many questions as it answers."

On 6 August Gbagbo proposed an accelerated election timetable that conflicts with the timeframe of early 2008 decided on in June by parties to the country’s latest peace agreement. Meanwhile western diplomats, and many Ivorians, have said they do not think elections would be possible before mid-2008 at best.

For Gbagbo: “If we are all of good faith -- if everyone is as determined as I am that elections take place -- we can organise the presidential election by the end of this year, as soon as December 2007.”

But for opposition leaders the Ivorian leader must show good faith by carrying out the steps necessary to hold credible elections – namely voter identification and registration and disarmament. “We could go to elections tomorrow; that’s not the point,” Alphonse Djedje Mady, head of the former ruling Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, told IRIN. “The point is that the elections must be carried out properly.”

The right to vote

One of the issues that still must be sorted out is who in Cote d’Ivoire is a citizen and who has the right to vote. The citizenship question is at the heart of the 2002 armed rebellion that set off five years of unrest. In the northwest many young, would-be voters have expressed concern that politicians led by Gbagbo are rushing to elections while trivialising the problems that gave rise to the country’s crisis.

“Today in the north, too many people still do not have identity papers,” 35-year-old entrepreneur Yaya Doumbia in the northwestern town of Odienne told IRIN, doubting the feasibility of elections even in early 2008. “There hasn’t been a proper count for election lists… How can [elections] happen when all this has not been done?”

The so-called ‘identification process’ has hardly begun. Outside of some militias turning over guns, disarmament has consisted largely of ceremonial burnings of weapons.

Gbagbo’s sudden rush to elections is in sharp contrast to his earlier political tactics which were seen by many to have led the UN to cancel polls twice during on-and-off peace efforts since 2003.

Northerners tell IRIN they believed that Gbagbo wants to out-maneuver the UN and the opposition. Mamadou Sidibe, a cashew farmer and shop owner in Odienne, called Gbagbo a “chameleon [whom] we cannot trust.”

Gbagbo’s move comes just weeks after the UN Security Council conceded to his demand to eliminate the post of UN High Representative for Elections. Opposition parties have protested the decision, saying it represents an abandonment of the principle of credible elections. Members of the opposition Rally of Republicans party of former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara have said they will consider the UN "responsible for any chaos resulting from poorly organised elections".

International observers say they also worry about the president’s intentions. Chatham House’s Balint-Kurti said Gbagbo's move could be seen as a positive step, but in light of his past it is difficult to tell. Balint-Kurti pointed out that just before the Gbagbo government led an offensive to retake the north in November 2004, all talk from the president’s camp was of peace. “Gbagbo has already demonstrated he’s capable of talking in the most unequivocally peaceful terms while preparing for war.”

He added, “The jury is out on the peace process. It’s not reasonable to say we’re irreversibly on the road to peace in Côte d’Ivoire.”




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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