Ivorians race to hand out vote cards
Abidjan - Ivorian election officials face a race against the clock to distribute millions more election cards and train over 60 000 poll workers to ensure the country does not miss another election deadline on October 31.
Some 5.7 million people have registered to vote in a poll meant to help reunite the world's top cocoa grower and former regional economic hub, split in two by a 2002-2003 civil war.
Now, after five years of delays to the elections caused by rows over rebel disarmament and voter eligibility, logistics rather than politics appear to be the only remaining threat to the new poll date.
"We've seen nothing to suggest it's impossible to meet the deadline, but it's going to be tight," said a diplomat who is following the process but asked not to be named.
"The official line is they are still on track. Next week we'll have a clearer idea after seeing how much progress has been made with the distribution of ID and electoral cards."
Although Ivory Coast's war ended in 2003, the nation has remained divided, with rebels still running the north.
A successful poll would restore confidence in a nation that was once West Africa's economic hub and pave the way for reforms to the cocoa industry that supplies well over 30% of world demand.
The prime minister's office said on Thursday that by October 19, 83% of the election cards had been distributed in the main city of Abidjan, but only 40% of voters in the rest of the country had theirs.
Millions more national identity cards also need to be handed out, Faki Konate, head of card distribution in the prime minister's office, told United Nations radio on Thursday.
Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his main rivals - Henri Konan Bedie, president from 1993 until a 1999 coup, and Alassane Ouattara, an ex-IMF deputy chief and a former prime minister - have long been on the campaign trail.
But some 66 000 polling station workers will also have to be trained before the election can take place.
The UN peacekeeping mission, which shipped cards to over 10 000 polling stations, but is not involved in distribution, said there had been no indication of problems so far.
"We encourage the CEI (Independent Electoral Commission) to do all it can to ensure that the elections happen on time," mission spokesperson Hadoun Toure said.