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Ivory Coast PM Tries to Ease Concern Over Vote Count

An unidentified man reacts to a campaign poster for incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, as presidential campaigning kicked off 15 Oct 2010 in Abidjan

An unidentified man reacts to a campaign poster for incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, as presidential campaigning kicked off 15 Oct 2010 in Abidjan

Ivory Coast's Prime Minister is trying to resolve concerns about how the votes in Sunday's presidential election will be counted.

With just five days to go before Ivory Coast's long-delayed presidential election, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro wants to reassure voters that their ballots will be counted properly.

Less than one week ago, the country's electoral commission announced that all votes would be counted by hand as results move from prefecture to communal to department to regional levels, until the final candidate totals are announced in Abidjan.

The prime minister's office then announced it is hiring a local company to count those votes electronically. The Information Technology Localization and Security Company (SILS Tehnologie) supervised Ivorian vote counting in 2007.

But the company's involvement in this election has drawn complaints from some opposition candidates and some members of the electoral commission because it is a subsidiary of a firm led by Ahoua Don Mello, a close associate of President Laurent Gbagbo, who is running for re-election.

Mello spoke at a campaign event for President Gbagbo Friday saying a manual count of votes would "leave the door open for every possible adventure." If the country wants to avoid drama, Mello says, it should avoid counting the votes by hand.

For many opposition candidates, the potential technological benefits of counting the votes electronically does not offset the risk of possible fraud because of Mello's involvement in the Gbagbo campaign.

The Movement of Future Forces Party Secretary General Philippe Legre calls the company's involvement in this vote a provocation by President Gbagbo's party to violate the independence of the electoral commission.

So Prime Minister Soro now says SILS Technologie will be joined in the electronic vote counting by a committee of independent experts including technicians from his office, the electoral commission, the Swedish technology firm Crypto AG and the U.N. observer mission.

Sindou Meite, the prime minister's spokesman, says the committee of experts will work with SILS Technology to secure the results and guarantee their authenticity in full transparency. He says nothing will be done to undermine the authority of the electoral commission, which remains the only institution authorized to announce the results.

Meite says the prime minister wants to reassure voters that the October 31 presidential election will be transparent in every respect and there will be no manipulation of results that might cast doubt on the integrity of the process.

This vote to reunite the country after a brief civil war has been repeatedly delayed since 2005. If no one wins an outright majority in this first round, a second round of voting is expected in late November.