afrol.com , 25 March - Year 2000 and 2001 has been the year of bitter political contest and violence in Côte d'Ivoire, but this weekend's municipal elections seem to be the positive exception. After being barred in the presidential and legislative elections, Alassane Ouattara's major opposition party finally is allowed to contest to prove its strength.
Today's municipal elections are seen as the first real electoral test since the military coup in 1999 by international observers, which boycotted the two first elections in Côte d'Ivoire's democratisation process. In October 2000, while still under Robert Guei's military rule, the opposition's principal candidate, Alassane Ouattara, and other 14 candidates were barred from contesting. Finally, civilian candidate Laurent Gbagbo managed to secure the victory, defying General Guei's claims of victory.
President Gbagbo's victory was however contested by the main opposition party, Rally of Republicans (RDR), of former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, which was believed to have become the winner of the election if not barred from participating. Calls for a re-election by the RDR and the international community ended in street riots. The RDR claims that more than 300 of its supporters were killed in the political violence leading up to and following the election.
The December 2000 legislative elections were even more violent and polarising. Although Ouattara and President Gbagbo seemingly had cut a deal to postpone the elections to give Ouattara the possibility to overrule his electoral disqualification (on charges that he was not Ivorian), the elections were carried out under international protest. The RDR boycotted the elections and physically prevented the poll in several of its northern strongholds. At least 30 persons were killed in the political clashes.
Today's municipal poll therefore in general is marked by joy and enthusiasm, as it is the first time Oattara's RDR participates on an equal ground. The vote has "assumed unprecedented significance" (BBC) as the RDR campaigners finally can prove their strength. It is also a unique chance for President Laurent Gbagbo to demonstrate that his winning of the anterior elections was not just a fluke caused by the lack of opposition.
According to press reports from Abidjan, the election opened in a peaceful atmosphere in the economic capital, but a number of violent incidents were reported in the west of the country. There were, however reports of clashes between supporters of a candidate for the RDR and those of an independent candidate in the Abidjan suburb of Anyama, according to PANA. The overall atmosphere has been of enthusiasm, though.
Turnout was reported to be fairly high. This again marks the "unprecedented significance" of the poll, as voter's turnout had been very low in the presidential and legislative elections. The RDR had called for a boycott on both occasions, and over 50 percent of the electorate stayed at home or was prevented from voting.
The polls will mark the end of the institutional transition began last year. Côte d'Ivoire had been marked be democracy and political stability until President Henri Konan Bedie's regime was toppled by General Robert Guei in December 1999. Guei promised to implement a democratic and institutional transition, but turned out to manipulate the reforms in his favour as the poll turned against him.
With the fall of Robert Guei and the political polarisation he had introduced, began the political violence of Côte d'Ivoire, which have marred the country for one year. Today's municipal elections in so far have marked a trend towards political normalisation in Côte d'Ivoire. They may also mark the return of international donors, which had frozen their aid to the country after Guei's coup and reaffirmed their disapproval of Ivorian politics as the presidential and legislative elections were condemned as neither free nor fair.
Chronology of the political unrest
2000: General Robert Guei reassures skeptical countrymen and foreign allies that he will lead the country back to democracy rapidly. Positive developments, especially concerning his government's human rights record, leave internal and external critics reassured. Internal military opposition to Guei however grows, and he has to fight mutinies against his junta in both March and July 2000. In September, there is even an armed attacked on his private residence.
October 2000: Goodwill turns to skepticism when General Guei announces he will stand candidate to the presidential elections and reports on opposition intimidation accumulates. The main oppositional leader, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara, together with 14 other candidates are barred from standing in the October 22 elections on accusations that he was born in Burkina Faso. Protests from the opposition and the international society are not taken to account. Outtara's RDR Party boycotts the elections and protests turn violent. International observers are held back in protest.
22 October 2000: Presidential elections are boycotted by the majority of Ivorian voters. Former outsider Laurent Gbagbo has turned into military leader Guei's only credible challenge in the elections. As votes are publicly, Gbagbo leads on Guei. His lead grows until the Election Committee suddenly is resolved and on 24 October, Guei announces that he had won the poll. Gbagbo also claims to have won and his supporters take to the streets.
26 October 2000: General Robert Guei flees the country after popular revolt. The majority of the armed troops refuse to shoot at their countrymen revolting. Opposition and international calls for a new election were also Outtara could stand candidate are refused, provoking new, large scale clashes killing over hundred persons in Abidjan and the north. Also immigrants and mosques and churches are attacked in a turmoil that put (mostly Muslim) northerners at conflict with other Ivorians.
November 2000: General Guei returns to Côte d'Ivoire without facing charges. Reports grow that the general is preparing a comeback by recruiting mercenaries and storing weapons in his village close to the Liberian border. Meanwhile, Ouattara and Gbagbo appeared to have reached a political understanding and it seamed likely that Ouattara would be allowed to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary election.
10 December 2000: In a surprising move, the Surpreme Court and Gbagbo's Government had refused Ouattara to stand as a candidate in the parliamentary election, provoking another RDR election boycott and new political clashes killing over 20. International protests are general. Voters turnout is low and in the north, the RDR Party effectively prevents the elections to take part. Gbagbo and Côte d'Ivoire face international isolation, but wins the election by a comfortable majority.
8-9 January 2001: A coup attempt against the the newly-elected President Laurent Gbagbo by members of the armed forces is fought back after the rebels occupy the state television and radio one night and attack other national institutions. Several are killed, but loyal Government forces quickly manage to get control over the situation.
March 2001: Some political unrest in connection with the
municipal elections, 25 March, however on a local scale. Outtara's RDR is
allowed to participate on full scale in the elections, which are seen as
an important step in normalising the political situation in the country.