Ivory Coast gears up for key vote

2015-10-09 13:36
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Abidjan - West African powerhouse Ivory Coast gears up on Friday for a key vote hoping to turn the page on searing political violence that left thousands dead and split the world's top cocoa producer in two.

As campaigning for the October 25 presidential election kicked off on Friday, incumbent Alassane Ouattara stands far and away the favourite in a field of 10 contenders in this closely-watched race.

Ouattara has led the once stable and prosperous economic regional powerhouse through a revival after a debilitating conflict that divided the country into a rebel-held north and a loyalist south for almost a decade.

His 2010 election proved to be the final but deadliest chapter in the conflict, when then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to the former deputy head of the IMF, triggering five months of bloodshed in which over 3,000 people died.

Now as the country of 23 million people - and 6.3 million voters - prepares to vote, Gbagbo marks time in a Dutch jail, awaiting his November war crimes trial by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Credible and transparent vote

Ouattara meanwhile has pitched his election campaign on the nation's upbeat economic performance, saying he hopes to win an outright majority at the first October 25 round of the vote, without having to resort to a second run-off round.

The tall 73-year-old economist, married to a Frenchwoman and nicknamed "ADO" after his initials, heads a coalition including his own RDR party but also the key PDCI set up by Ivory Coast's founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

His campaign kicks off Friday in Houphouet-Boigny's home town Yamoussoukro, site of one of the world's largest churches.

But with three weeks to go, the opposition has sharpened its criticism of the outgoing administration, raising fears of a fresh round of election trouble.

Five of the 10 presidential candidates this week said the country was "not ready" to hold a "credible and transparent" vote and threatened to pull out of the race.

And on Tuesday former foreign affairs minister Amara Essy announced he would suspend his candidacy "to avoid becoming an accomplice in an electoral masquerade".

"If we don't take care we'll head into a post-election crisis that will be one post-election crisis too many."

Gbagbo's ghost

Eminent contenders for the top job - ex parliament speaker Mamadou Koulibaly, ex premier Charles Konan Banny, MPs Bertin Konan Kouadio and Kacou Gnangbo, as well as businessman Simeon Konan Kouadio - have all suggested they could boycott the vote.

In the past months opposition parties have slammed preparations for the vote and urged Ouattara to sit down and discuss the issue with them.

Only four of the 10 candidates, including Outtara, have so far signed "a code of good conduct for a peaceful election" drafted by the CEI.

And some in the opposition have asked for the Commission to be dissolved on the grounds it favours Ouattara.

"None of the candidates have seen the electoral list and the CEI has not yet distributed voting cards," Koulibaly said.

"The candidates are not ready, the CEI is not ready, none of the candidates have been on television," he added.

Ouattara's main challenger is tipped to be Pascal Affi N'Guessan, leader of the FPI party originally set up by Gbagbo but now split in two - with hardline Gbagbo loyalists boycotting the vote in support of their jailed leader.

With Gbagbo's shadow looming over the vote, Affi N'Guessan begins his campaign Saturday in the former president's fiefdom of Gagnoa, a litmus-test for his campaign.

To ward off criticism of electoral fraud, votes will be sent electronically to the CEI in Abidjan and voters identified biometrically.

At least 34 000 troops, including 6 000 UN peacekeepers, will be deployed during the election.

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