I Coast: Final voter list produced

2010-09-03 07:55

Abidjan - Ivory Coast's electoral commission said on Thursday it had produced a final voter list for the first time, raising the chance that an election which has been delayed six times in five years might go ahead.

The poll, now scheduled for October 31, is needed to end years of turmoil in the once economically successful west African country, following a failed 2002 rebellion against President Laurent Gbagbo that deterred investment and ravaged the economy.

"The list is finalised. We are respecting the schedule," electoral commission spokesperson Nicolas Coulibaly said.

Voter register has been the main sticking point between Gbagbo and the opposition, and the battle over it in the courts has been long and tortuous.

While Ivory Coast appears closer to the poll than ever, sceptics say there remains a chance Gbagbo's camp will reject the list and further delay the process.

"For us, the list is final, but it's the politics which decides if this goes ahead. We're just technicians," said Coulibaly.

Political wrangling

The last election date of November 29, 2009 collapsed into political wrangling over the electoral list, ending with Gbagbo dissolving the government and electoral commission in February, triggering mass demonstrations.

"Every time we get so close, you think things are moving and this date is D-day, then all hope is suddenly frustrated," said a diplomat involved in the process for several years.

The stalemate has delayed urgently needed reforms to the cocoa sector, which supplies 40% of world demand but is in decline due to aging trees.

The next stage is to print electoral cards, which the commission plans to do until September. In early October, it aims to send the cards and lists to polling stations. The voter roll will then be posted at polling stations from Oct. 10-12.

Gbagbo's supporters have long suspected that the list includes foreign imposters from Burkina Faso and Mali. The opposition says this is a pretext for removing names of people unlikely to vote for him because of tribe, region or religion.

He has stayed silent on the electoral list this time around.

Major sticking point

In two speeches broadcast on national radio and TV on Thursday, he said simply that the election would happen as scheduled. His close aides have indicated they are happier with the process this time around.

Another major sticking point was disarmament of rebels who still control the north of the country. The rebels are hardly disarmed but they claim to have done the next best thing: locked themselves away in their barracks for the campaign.

Under a peace deal signed in 2007, the rebels must have put their soldiers into military encampments two months before the vote, a deadline they say they met on Tuesday.

But analysts raised eyebrows over the fact that the list has not changed much since Gbagbo rejected it last time. As he has shown many times before, if he doesn't like it, he can easily throw a spanner in the works.

"The government still clings to the idea that there are voters on the list who should not be there," said Gohou Danon, head of trading at London-based Silk Invest, an Ivorian.

"I'm not convinced they will just leave it. They will do everything they can to remove those voters from the list."