COTE D'IVOIRE: Impact of terminating top UN election monitor post - analysis

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Most observers agree that the UN Security Council’s 16 July resolution eliminating the senior UN election monitoring post in Cote d’Ivoire was a concession to President Laurent Gbagbo who in May demanded the removal of Gerard Stoudmann, the man who had held the position. However, observers are more divided over whether the move dooms the electoral process.

“Getting rid of the High Representative for Elections is only part of the story,” said one Western diplomat who spoke to IRIN but did not want to be identified. “The full story is we’re getting rid of the post but not its responsibilities.”

The 16 July resolution transfers the functions of the High Representative for Elections to the permanent Special Representative to UN Secretary-General (SRSG), head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI).

The resolution states: “[The SRSG] shall certify that all stages of the electoral process provide all the necessary guarantees for the holding of open, free, fair and transparent presidential and legislative elections in accordance with international standards.”

The problem is that currently there is no permanent SRSG in Cote d’Ivoire. Since former SRSG Pierre Schori left in February, the post has been vacant. Abou Moussa is acting head of the UN mission.

Behind the scenes

Schori, who now heads a foreign policy think-tank based in Madrid, recently talked to IRIN about the problem of filling his former position in Cote d’Ivoire. “It is a symptom of the crisis that there has not been any SRSG for nearly six months, partly due as I have been told to the fact that President [Gbagbo] has vetoed at least one candidate.”

Schori also gave his view on the Security Council resolution. “There was a compromise reached after Gbagbo wanted to oust [Stoudmann].”

For some observers the resolution was nothing less than a capitulation to President Gbagbo who has often denounced international envoys in Cote d’Ivoire as meddlers in his country’s internal affairs.

The resolution makes special mention of Cote d’Ivoire’s “sovereignty” and “independence,” and “the importance of good-neighbourliness [and] non-interference”.

Internal divide

Yet on 12 June a coordinating group overseeing the progress of the country’s newly created peace plan had called for retaining the UN election post. That group is made up of representatives of the government, the political opposition and the former rebels.

Opposition leaders have slammed the UN decision to eliminate its election monitoring post. “It is a flagrant contradiction [of an earlier peace agreement and earlier Security Council resolutions]”, Ally Coulibaly, spokesman for the Rally of Republicans party, told IRIN.

“We can’t accept this decision,” he said. “The Ivorian people and the international community must be particularly vigilant to make sure that every stage of the elections process is carried out properly.”

Other opposition leaders also told IRIN they felt the UN had let them down. “It marks an utter retreat – a total disengagement on the part of the UN,” Djedje Mady, head of the former ruling party the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, told IRIN. “This is a real shame. The opposition will do what it can to ensure that elections are viable and fair,” he said. “We must learn to count on ourselves, not on outsiders.”

International divide

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report in June which tried to head off the UN Security Council decision. “Given that everyone is unanimous that an election carried out in security and transparence is a key to ending Cote d’Ivoire’s crisis, nothing can justify the elimination of the post.”

After the resolution was passed ICG researcher for West Africa Gilles Yabi told IRIN: “Eliminating this post is a bad sign; it portends a minimal role for the UN in the electoral process.”

At the very least, analysts say the resolution makes the UN look weak in the eyes of Ivorians and the world. “This does indicate a prevaricating UN,” said Daniel Balint-Kurti, West Africa analyst with the London-based think-tank Chatham House. “Presumably the UN created this post because they saw it as important [to ensure proper elections],” he said.

“With the peace process now at such a critical juncture, it’s not clear why they changed on this except to avoid an open row with Gbagbo.”

Silver lining

It remains an open question whether the UN will still be able to control the election process. Observers say it depends on how well the SRSG’s election oversight unit functions.

One Western diplomat noted that eliminating the election monitoring post without removing the essential role of UN oversight may actually be advantageous. He said, the high representative had been an entity seperate from UNOCI and therefore vulnerable to being singled out by the government.

“There’s no point in leaving in place a situation that threatens to come unstuck down the line.” He added: “The SRSG will perhaps be less easy to marginalise.”

Even some strong critics of the UN resolution said they have not yet lost all hope. “The UN caved in to Gbagbo’s demands but whether the UN takes a back seat in the electoral process will be seen on the ground in time,” Chatham House’s Balint-Kurti said.

Source: IRIN