afrol News, 2 November - The historic presidential polls in Côte d'Ivoire on Sunday so far have been surprisingly peaceful and well organised. As preliminary results are to tick in during the day, there are however fears of new clashes.
Ghana's ex-President John Kufour, meanwhile a symbol of democratic practices in the region, headed the Carter Centre's election observer mission in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). In parts of the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, Mr Kufuor's symbolic presence helped voters overcome their fears of participating in the political process after a decade of political violence.
"John Kufuor stands for democracy," one voter said. "He handed over power peacefully. He will help us be able to vote." Indeed, voter turnout seemed overwhelming in most parts of Abidjan.
The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) already has announced its first assessment of voter turnout. According to CEI President Youssouf Bakayoko, an impressive 80 percent of Ivorian voters had participated in the long-awaited election.
But not only in Abidjan, a city historically split in two strongly opposing political camps, did the high turnout prove voters' trust in the organisation and their desire to finally influence on the country's politics.
Reports from the volatile western region of Côte d'Ivoire, which still struggles with the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, indicate that the polling exercise went well and had a high turnout. The same was reported from the north, which has been controlled by the ex-rebels Forces Nouvelles since the 2002-2003 civil war.
Especially the most volatile regions of the fractured country had seen large security efforts to secure the important election's credibility. Both Ivorian security forces and UN peacekeepers patrolled polling stations in towns and villages seen as potential conflict areas.
The UN peacekeeping force UNOCI has reported that the elections went ahead peacefully in the entire country, much despite prior anxieties. UN Special Envoy Young Jin Choi congratulated the CEI and peacekeepers on the "smooth polling".
Most observers were indeed surprised that the election campaign and polling went as smoothly as it did, given th
Ghana's ex-President John Kufour (l), who leads an election observer mission, talking to the press
e strong polarisation of Ivorian politics, where followers of the different parties and candidates have met in violent clashes at uncountable occasions since before the civil war.
In the south, militias had been set up by followers of the main political leaders and their parties, which again strongly oppose the political movements of the autonomous north.
President Laurent Gbagbo, a southerner seeking re-election, confronts Henri Konan Bedié, who was toppled from the Ivorian presidency in the 1999 coup. Both confront the northerner and ex-PM Alassane Ouattara. Mr Ouattara was a favourite to win the 2000 presidential election, but was barred from standing candidate. The 2000 election was won by Mr Gbagbo, which was a main trigger of the civil war splitting the country in north and south.
Since 2000, there have been no elections in Côte d'Ivoire. After the civil war, free elections have been high on the agenda to find a permanent solution to the north-south conflict, but a continuous political deadlock led to a total of six postponements of the planned poll.
While the electoral process therefore has gone surprisingly well until now, observers fear that the election results, when they get clearer, may ignite new tensions among militant followers of the three major parties. The CEI has a Wednesday deadline to present its results, but has announced that the first preliminary results will already be published later today as they get ready.
UN Representative Choi and high-profiled observers such as ex-President Kufuour now urge Ivorian leaders to accept the results of the CEI. The losing candidates will have to strongly communicate to his militants not to engage in violence if clashes are to be avoided.
Because already today, one of the three major candidates may have to face defeat. Analysts do not expect Sunday's elections to produce a clear winner, and a run-off poll between the two major candidates is already scheduled for 28 November.
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