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October 05, 2010

Ivory Coast Begins Voter Card Registration

Election officials in Ivory Coast have begun the distribution of voter cards in Abidjan, a key step toward holding a long-delayed presidential poll at the end of this month.  

After five years of repeated delays, Ivory Coast looks closer than ever to holding its much-awaited presidential poll, now planned for October 31.

Abidjan residents lined up outside distribution centers to receive their voter and identity cards.  

Election officials say they should complete distribution nationwide in four days.  They plan to distribute electoral and identity cards to the more than 5.7 million Ivorians on the definitive voter list approved by Ivorian leaders and the United Nations last month.

The election is meant to bring an end to nearly a decade of political crisis since a 2002 civil war split the country between north and south.  The date for elections has been set and missed six times.  Current President Laurent Gbagbo's term officially expired five years ago.

Mr. Gbagbo showed off his new identity card this weekend at a rally in Bouake, the main town in the rebel-held north.

He says they are standing strong in the resolution of this crisis, adding that they are going to distribute more than 5.5 million identity cards.

It will be the first time in a decade that Ivorians have been issued identity cards.  Ivory Coast has a large immigrant population.  The questions of "who is Ivorian" and "who can vote" were at the heart of a 2002 civil war and have been formidable stumbling blocks on the path to elections.

Former rebel leader and current prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said this weekend that the ID card he held in his hand was the fruit of years of negotiation.

He says for two decades this precious document has been at the heart of political debate in Ivory Coast.  "With this card", he says, "We will have finally answered the identity question."

But logistical challenges remain for the vote on October 31, including setting up polling stations, shipping voting materials, and recruiting and training polling staff.

Official campaigning for the 14 registered candidates is set to begin October 15.