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Ivorians Vote On Sunday After A Long Delay

  • Anne Look

Men wait to retreive their identity cards as well as their electors cards for the presidential elections iin Bouake, Oct 27, 2010

Men wait to retreive their identity cards as well as their electors cards for the presidential elections iin Bouake, Oct 27, 2010

In Ivory Coast's long-delayed presidential poll Sunday, President Laurent Gbagbo will face key opposition candidates, Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bedie.

Ivorians head to the polls Sunday to vote in the country's long-delayed presidential election.

The vote, which has been pushed back six times since 2005, pits current president Laurent Gbagbo against 13 other candidates, including opposition frontrunners, Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara.

In the run-up to the poll, Ivorian authorities began distributing identity and voter cards for the first time in a decade. It was a landmark step, but the question of Ivorian identity has continued to underscore campaigning between the lead candidates, just as it did the 2002-2003 civil war and repeated electoral delays.

On the campaign trail, President Gbagbo has represented himself as the country's liberator from its former colonial ruler, France, which he says supports his opposition rivals and supported northern rebels who tried to oust him in 2002.

Speaking to a rally in the western town of Man, Mr. Gbagbo says "no one can topple us with just some Kalachnikov, because we are ready to fight to be respected". He says he came to power through elections and he will go one day, either because he is no longer running for election or he is beaten in a poll.

Mr. Gbagbo, who has said he is confident of victory, has been president of Ivory Coast since 2000, though his mandate ran out in 2005.

Opposition members accused him of stalling elections to remain in power, but Mr. Gbagbo blamed technical reasons for electoral postponements.

At a rally in Abidjan Wednesday, candidate and former president, Henri Konan Bedie, said the situation in Ivory Coast has gotten worse in the past decade.

He says governance in Ivory Coast has declined and national unity has weakened. Poor management of international relations has isolated and weakened the country. He says democracy has been strangled, the media has been confiscated and human rights are violated.

Bedie was president of Ivory Coast from 1993 until 1999. He was seen as the chosen successor of Ivory Coast's first president, Houpheout Boigny, and he has promised to restore the country to that golden age.

In 1999, Bedie was ousted in a military coup. He was then barred from running in the 2000 elections in which he would have opposed coup leader Robert Guei and current President Gbagbo.

The 76-year-old candidate has said that if he wins this election, it will be his last mandate.

Bedie is part of an opposition coalition that includes former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara, who is Bedie's primary opposition rival in this first round of polling.

It will be Ouattara's first presidential poll. He was barred from elections in 1995 and 2000 because of questions about his nationality. Ouattara is from the northern part of the country where many people are descendants of migrant workers, and it was rumored that Ouattara's mother came from Burkina Faso.

At a campaign rally, Ouattara says "if we have not resolved our problems in the last ten years, we shall not manage to do so in the next five years." He says "that is why we need change on October 31st." He says "we have to bring change democratically on this day. He says "that is why I came to ask you to vote Alassane Dramane Ouattara, for change in Ivory Coast."

A former deputy chief at the International Monetary Fund, Ouattara has promised to rebuild Ivory Coast and campaigned on the promise to offer "solutions" to Ivorians.

Opinion polls have put Gbagbo in the lead, but analysts say it will be a tight race that could most likely go to a second round.

Some Ivorians fear disagreements over the results of Sunday's poll could reignite violence, but candidates and the country's electoral commission have called for a peaceful vote.

An Ivorian force, composed of half government troops and half former rebel fighters and supported by U.N. peacekeepers, is responsible for security during the poll.