COTE D'IVOIRE: Election board suspends voter registration

Friday, October 24, 2008

COTE D'IVOIRE: Election board suspends voter registration


Côte d’Ivoire’s electoral commission on 23 October suspended for two days the long-delayed voter registration operation, throwing into deeper uncertainty the timing of a presidential poll seen as indispensable to restoring stability.

The electoral commission said registration was being suspended for technical reasons, but the operation has been fraught with problems. The order comes as youths continue attacking registration offices and some election workers enter the second week of a strike over alleged lack of pay.

Residents of the commercial capital Abidjan described how last week youths armed with stones and clubs vandalised a registration office and made off with documents. Other registration offices throughout the country have been similarly attacked since the process began on 15 September.

The presidential election is officially set for 30 November after several failed peace deals and poll cancellations, but much pre-election work remains to be done and disarmament of former rebels and pro-government militia is lagging. Local and international media are reporting that a postponement is imminent. Ivorians are wondering not whether the poll will be put off again but for how long this time.

“For at least a week now, all Ivorians say the elections will be postponed,” teacher Marcellin Atta in Abidjan told IRIN. “Let’s hope it won’t be for more than six months.”

President Laurent Gbagbo took power in a 2000 election in which he ran against military ruler Robert Guei. A 2002 rebellion split the country into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south. A peace deal signed by Gbagbo and the rebels in March 2007 is still holding but is laden with setbacks.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a UN group of experts monitoring progress in Côte d’Ivoire earlier this month expressed concern that conditions in the country threaten stability.

“Many of the uncompleted tasks [in the electoral process] could pose serious risks to the elections, and indeed the entire peace process as well as the long-term stability of Cote d’Ivoire, if they are not carefully managed,” Secretary-General Ban said in a 13 October report.

Ivorians say the continued stalemate is agonising.

“Elections must take place so we can finish once and for all with this stressful situation of neither war nor peace,” Mariam Touré, a financial assistant in Abidjan, told IRIN. “This has gone on far too long and conditions have become utterly unbearable for the people.”