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Côte d'Ivoire election may bolster Ouattara's rule

Loucoumane Coulibaly

The ruling coalition of President Alassane Ouattara looks set to sweep to victory in a weekend parliamentary election in Côte d'Ivoire.

The ruling coalition of President Alassane Ouattara looks set to sweep to victory in a parliamentary election in Côte d’Ivoire on Sunday, easing the new leader’s mammoth task of rebuilding a nation crippled by war.

The vote will mark the first time since 2000 that the West African country has been able to elect a Parliament. It is seen as a crucial step toward recovery after a decade of conflict and political turmoil.

“For the government, the challenge now is to complete this process, to end the crisis and show it will never happen again,” said Maurice Faye, an Ivorian political analyst.

Ouattara won presidential elections in November 2010 but was only able to take the reins of power in April after fighters backing him invaded the economic capital Abidjan and captured ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo, who had rejected the results.

Ouattara has since vowed to reconcile the country, long split along north-south lines by ethnicity and religion, and revive what was once the region’s most vibrant economy. Those tough goals could prove easier with a willing legislature.

Set to win
Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s top producer of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, but also produces gold, oil and cotton.

Analysts said Ouattara’s ruling coalition, which includes his RDR party and the allied PDCI, appears set for a landslide win based on voting patterns during the first-round of last year’s presidential polls.

Ouattara’s chances could get a further boost from a boycott call by Gbagbo’s former ruling party, the FPI, angered by the alleged unfair treatment of Gbagbo supporters by the government and a failure to prosecute war crimes by both sides.

“A landslide win for the ruling coalition is almost a given,” said Samir Gadio of Standard Bank. “Seemingly, the FPI would rather boycott the contest than face an overwhelming defeat,” he added.

Ouattara took more than 32% of the first-round tally in last year’s polls while PDCI candidate Henri Konan Bedie took more than 25%. Gbagbo had 38% in the first round, but lost to Ouattara in the runoff.

Opposition ire
Gbagbo was sent to The Hague in late November to face charges of crimes against humanity, a move analysts said could reduce tensions within Côte d’Ivoire but would fall far short of reconciling a divided country.

More than 3 000 people were killed in the post-election fighting, and over one million were displaced. Human rights groups and the United Nations have said both Gbagbo’s and Ouattara’s fighters committed atrocities.

The conflict followed a civil war in 2002/03 that split the country in two, and years of political turmoil during which Gbagbo repeatedly delayed elections.

The effects of the most recent fighting caused Côte d’Ivoire to default on its 2032 $2.3-billion bond, but the government has promised to resume payments in 2012.

The head of the FPI party this week hit out at political allies who have defied a call to boycott the parliamentary election, fracturing what was once a unified pro-Gbagbo bloc.

A former Gbagbo spokesperson said three of the eight main pro-Gbagbo parties would participate in the polls after conciliatory gestures from the government. An FPI official said 10 of its members had been suspended after putting forward their names as candidates.

‘Security, peace, employment’
Nearly 1 000 candidates will vie for the National Assembly’s 255 seats, according to the electoral commission.

Pockets of lingering violence in parts of the country, particularly in the west, have reinforced worries of trouble during the polls, which will be secured by local and United Nations forces.

Campaigning has been mostly peaceful so far, though three people were killed on Wednesday in a rocket blast at a rally in Grand-Lahou, in the south-west.

Officials said they were investigating the incident, though a politician in the region said the rocket may have been fired accidentally by an armed guard.

In western Côte d’Ivoire, where cross-border raids from Liberia by pro-Gbagbo militias have continued since Ouattara took office, residents said they hoped the government would improve security and the economy.

“All we want is security, peace, and employment so we can feed our families,” said Benjamin Tocalle, from Duekoue.

Ivorian security forces arrested a top pro-Gbagbo militia commander, Maho Glofiei, this week in a drive to improve security for Sunday’s vote.—Reuters

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