Friday, November 13, 2009

Elections in Cote d'Ivoire Delayed Again

This has been coming for a long time, but on Wednesday, the head of the Ivoirian elections commission finally announced that the much anticipated presidential elections would be delayed, this time by two months. The ballot had been scheduled for November 29.

Why finally and this time you ask? Well, because Cote d'Ivoire's election has been delayed five times since 2005 now, each time for a different reason. Most of the delays stemmed from hurdles to voter identification and registration. These processes were finally completed but they led to uncertainty over the eligibility of about one million voters (if you want a good overview, visit the Cote d'Ivoire page on the Crisis Group website).

Now, on Abidjan radio stations a couple weeks ago, when it became clear the elections would have to be delayed, there was a lot of talk about whether these one million people were just people who had tried to register several times, or whether they were actually people with a right to vote. A main concern, given the nature of the Ivoirian conflicts, is that "foreigners" are not able to vote.

I don't know how much of a sample I got listening to the radio in taxicabs but on reliable stations like Radio France Internationale, the consensus seemed to be that a short delay would give the election much needed legitimacy. Still, both stations and local papers were suspicious of the President and his motivations. After all, he had just taken steps to appoint a new President of the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council which would adjudicate difficulties with the elections) and put in place a loyalist. Overall, the feeling I got in Abidjan and rebel-held Bouake was one of simmering tension and suspicion. I'll not use silly images here because you can imagine what they would be if I did.

So all this to say, keep an eye on the Ivoirian electoral process. I actually think this time the elections will be held in two months. They're basically organized, candidates are registered and campaigning has begun in earnest. But given the machinations to which both the President and Prime Minister are prone, these elections can't be D- elections. If they are even somewhat fraudulent, the elections commission and the constitutional council need to do their jobs in a fair way. One thing is for sure, as several French officers (both from Licorne and the UN) and UNOCI officials told me, the reduced French force (called Licorne--it has just under 800 troops mostly in Abidjan) and the 7,000 strong UN force won't be able to secure the country if the population decides it doesn't like the way the elections are handled.

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