Ivory Coast heads to the polls as Ouattara hopes to seal peace

AFP , Sunday 25 Oct 2015

Ivory Coast
An election worker carries election material at a community center in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (AP Photo)

Ivory Coast heads into presidential elections on Sunday with the incumbent Alassane Ouattara, campaigning on restoring stability, widely tipped for re-election.

But with the country desperately needing a peaceful and credible ballot, opposition figures are crying foul.

Around 3,000 died in violence following the last elections in 2010, which pitted Ouattara against former strongman leader Laurent Gbagbo.

The crisis was a bloody epilogue to a decade of upheaval, splitting west Africa's economic powerhouse between a rebel-held north and a loyalist south.

A top economist, Ouattara, 73, is seeking a solid first-round win to dodge the threat of a run-off against one of six other presidential contenders.

Polling stations were set to open at 0700 GMT and close at 1700 GMT. Preliminary results are expected early in the week.

More than six million people are eligible to vote, but with memories of the violence sparked by the last election still fresh in many people's minds, there are concerns turnout will be low.

"We'll be far, very far from the 80 percent participation at the election in 2010," one observer warned.

Ouattara has campaigned on turning around Ivory Coast's economy and securing stability after years of turmoil.

"For the next five years, we will strengthen our institutions to consolidate peace," said Ouattara, rounding off his campaign at a rally of thousands of supporters in the economic capital, Abidjan.

The former deputy head of the IMF was finally inaugurated president in 2011 after weeks of violence that followed then president Gbagbo's refusal to concede defeat in the election.

Gbagbo was eventually ousted by French-backed pro-Ouattara forces and is now in a Dutch jail. He goes on trial next month for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ouattara's main challenger Sunday will be former prime minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan, who is running on behalf of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front.

Former prime minister Charles Konan Banny dropped out of the running on Friday -- becoming the third candidate to do so -- citing "grave irregularities" in the organisation of the vote.

Former foreign minister Amara Essy had also withdrawn, along with former national assembly president Mamadou Koulibaly, who condemned the vote as "rigged".

The government shrugged off their boycott as a bid to duck out of a competition they were tipped to lose.

But Ouattara has come under criticism from Amnesty International for the detention of opponents ahead of the vote, and rights campaigners have said little justice has been meted out to members of his camp over the 2010-11 violence.

In Yopougon, the working class pro-Gbagbo district of Abidjan known for its buzzing nightlife, there was deep gloom on Saturday, with many residents still seeing Gbagbo as the rightful winner of the 2010 vote.

"For us, October 25 is a day of mourning in Yopougon," said hairdresser Daniel as he sat outside his salon, adding that he would not be voting on Sunday.

"Going to vote would be like violating the constitution myself," he said.

"Tell me who to vote for while my parents are languishing in Ouattara's prisons," said a woman who gave her family name as Yaba, standing amongst steaming pots at her restaurant.

But in the staunchly pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Adobo, the mood was upbeat amongst voters cheering on their champion, known as "Ado" after his initials.

"Ado will build roads, he's going to bring work for young people," said 19-year-old Ousmane Ouattara, who lost his mother in the violence sparked by the last election.

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