Sunday, February 21, 2010

Elections? We Need to Hold Elections? But...Bienvenue en Cote d'Ivoire

As you know, elections in Cote d'Ivoire have been postponed five times in the last five years. Surprise, surprise, it has happened again. What's the reason this time? There is "uncertainty" about the legitimacy of about on million people's place on the voter rolls. You'll remember that elections were formally delayed for the fifth time back in October.

Since then, as you could expect, that voter issue hasn't been addressed. In fact, you could basically say it's made no progress at all except to publicize President Gbagbo's accusations that elections commission officials have found "fraud" on the rolls. Specifically, Gbagbo is claiming that the elections commission has allowed half a million "foreigners" to be on the rolls. Then on Thursday February 11, the government announced that it had stopped reviewing the rolls...the catch? The elections can't be held until the rolls are finalized.

And then on Friday, February 12, President Gbagbo hit the reset button: he dissolved the government and fired the elections commission. Both institutions will reportedly be "reformed" within the week, though in a smaller format. The President says this will make them more effective. He's asked former rebel leader Guillaume Soro to stay on as Prime Minister.

Well, it's been ten days and the country still doesn't have a new government, in large part because the opposition parties have announced that they would request Gbagbo's resignation, not recognize Soro's new government, and demand that the elections commission resume its work (in its previous configuration). As a result, Gbagbo had to temporarily re-instate the Defense and Finance Ministers because Soro has yet to form a government.

Meanwhile, five people were killed by security forces (they opened fire) at a protest on Friday and frustration is mounting. The protests have spread to Bouake (the capital of the rebel-held north where several thousand people marched through the streets, setting fire to cars etc). Protests also erupted in Abidjan and Khorogo. Today, President Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso will meet with opposition leaders to try and defuse the situation.

Ok, so what does all this mean? I think it means that Ivorian (and international) fears that the electoral process is in jeopardy are pretty well-founded. I think this has pretty serious implications for the Ouagadougou peace process and they're worrisome (MK could write a short dissertation--if he hasn't already--on the fact that Cote d'Ivoire is the only country for which a genocide alert has ever been issued).

I think this confirms that Gbagbo and Soro are reluctant to hold elections because they fear not only that they'll get pushed out but also that they will lose out on currently lucrative arrangements (lucrative for them). And I think that tensions are still so high that this could spell disaster. Combine that with a spineless UN mission, led by a diffident Special Representative of the Secretary General who views his job as requiring nothing more than support for the government, a significantly decreased French presence, and high tension, and you have a pretty volatile mix.

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