Ivory Coast behind vote schedule

2010-10-26 19:18

Abidjan – Ivory Coast is behind schedule in preparing for presidential elections this weekend, but the electoral commission said on Monday that it is confident the long-overdue vote will go forward.

The commission estimates only 45% of voter cards have been distributed outside of the biggest city of Abidjan.

Preparations for the October 31 poll have also been hampered by transport difficulties, a lack of trained electoral officers and allegations that the company hired to count the vote has ties to the president. But commission president Youssouf Bakayoko said he has no doubt the vote will go ahead.

Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, has been overdue for an election since 2005 when President Laurent Gbagbo's term ended. An election date has been set and missed six times already, though never this close to the vote.

With five days to go until the vote, the process is now running so far behind schedule that Gbagbo declared Friday a national holiday so that more people would go collect their IDs.

The upcoming election was nearly derailed last weekend when opposition candidates objected that the electronic vote counting was being run by a company with close ties to the president.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro – who has been acting as a mediator between Gbagbo and the opposition – initially declared that the votes would be counted by hand before realising that this could delay results beyond the three day legal deadline.

Reversed his position

Soro then reversed his position on October 24, reinstating the electronic count with the oversight of a Swiss company to prevent any vote rigging.

"All over the world, elections inflame passions, so we have to be careful," said Hamadoun Toure, spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast.

The UN is working with the electoral commission to prepare for the election by helping to transport ballot boxes, escort officials and evaluate the country's readiness to vote.

"We're already working on the postelection period," he said. Making sure that the country is secure during the tense moments between the vote and the announcement of results is their top priority, he said.

An estimated $400m have already been spent identifying voters and issuing state of the art biometric IDs, prompting some observers to call it the most expensive election in the world. The fee being paid to the Swiss oversight company now increases the cost.

If Ivorians are able to vote on Sunday and restore democratic legitimacy to their country after 10 years, it will all be worth it, Toure said.

"We're almost there. It's been a long time coming," he said.