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Ivory Coast’s election dilemma

August 28, 2008

ivorycoast_soldiers_ballots.jpgThe authorities in Ivory CoastĀ have now embarked on what is supposed to be the last step of issuing identity papers to its citizens. Those who lost their papers during the war or never had any in the first place and missed out on previous hearings across the country are getting another chance .

This, in theory, will then allow those old enough to register to vote in elections, which are due to take place on November 30. These are the elections meant to end a crisis that was sparked by a short war in 2002-2003 and left the country, the world’s top cocoa producer and home to one of the region’s most stable and flourishing economies, divided between a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south.

The two sides have struck numerous deals and, though there was little fighting after the first few months of the war, election deadlines have come and gone. The 2007 deal between President Laurent Gbagbo and rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who has since become prime minister, seems to be Ivory Coast’s best shot at peace yet.

But a glance at the newspapers on the day the new identification drive was launched revealed other concerns. Fraternite Matin, a respected daily, devoted its front page to a headline that read “It is not possible!” above a collection of reasons why the presidential election cannot be held on Nov. 30. Many other papers had columns analysing rumours and the subsequent denials that the army chief had been arrested.

Abidjan is no stranger to rumours but this is a less-than ideal run up to elections. The disarmament of rebels and militia has not taken place on the scale it is meant to have done. Over the last two months, dissident rebels have protested over issues such as money from demobilisation, at times fighting their former colleagues. Hardly any of the equipment needed to register voters has actually been deployed, just days before the electoral lists are meant to be published. Despite this, the official word is still that the polls should take place as planned.

Ivory Coast seems to face a choice between elections on time but in less than perfect conditions or yet another delay. What would the consequences be of putting off the polls, yet again? Given the importance of identity and nationality in Ivory Coast, should elections be held when there are still questions over who is eligible to vote and who is not? What about organising elections when there are still various groups who are still armed and could use them to challenge the results?

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