Mixed feelings over I Coast polls

2010-09-10 17:39

Abidjan - For many Ivorians, it is hard to shake off the feeling that a long overdue election now scheduled for October 31 is just another mirage, tantalisingly close but destined to evaporate as the date approaches.

Even while they feel more hopeful than for years, few have let go of their doubts.

President Laurent Gbagbo signed a decree on Thursday validating the final electoral voter list, removing what would appear to be the last major hurdle to presidential polls in the world's top cocoa grower.

The elections are badly needed to end years of instability after a 2002-3 war damaged the economy and sent investment fleeing from the once prosperous West African country. They are also crucial for urgent cocoa sector reforms to take place.

Six electoral dates have been missed in the past five years, with the voter list and rebel disarmament the main bones of contention.

"We are living in hope. We really want to believe this time that our leaders are sincere," said Justin Assale, as he watched state TV announce the signing in a bar in Abidjan's crowded Yopougon suburb.

"But we also want to be prudent, because nothing is guaranteed in Ivory Coast."

Last week, the electoral commission said it had produced a final voter list for the first time. The voter register had been the main sticking point between Gbagbo and the opposition, with Gbagbo claiming it was packed with non-Ivorians.

Region’s showpiece

The opposition accused Gbagbo of delaying elections because he feared losing, a charge he has always denied.

"I don't know why they were delaying the vote. It doesn't matter. We've been waiting for five years and now it might be actually going to happen," said Marie N'jbin, 22, unemployed. "I just hope things are going back to normal."

The crisis has left what was once the region's showpiece nation looking shabby, at least compared with the grainy photographs depicting the golden age of decades past.

Along the upmarket Boulevard Latrille with its rows of palm trees, taxis dodge potholes and try to avoid the whistles of racketeering police checkpoints, which businessmen say have robbed the economy of up to $600m per year since the war.

"We are so tired of this crisis," said student Planche N'Guessen, 20. "Every time they say the election is on, then it's off. We started not to believe in them anymore."

But with the final electoral list now apparently etched in stone, many see an end in sight.

"They're now obliged to hold elections. They can't do otherwise," said Desire Soma, a pharmacist.