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Ivory Coast to Reopen Voter Registration

Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo (L) and Burkina Faso's president Blaise Compaore meet at the airport in Abidjan on 22 Feb, 2010 after Campaore arrived to act as a mediator in Ivory Coast's political crisis

The U.N. Special Representative for Ivory Coast said Thursday that the country's political leaders will try to resolve a dispute over the electoral list by reopening voter registration for another month. The Ivory Coast's president this month dismissed the electoral commission because he said it was illegally registering voters.

There are many reasons why presidential elections in Ivory Coast have been postponed seven times since 2005. But the biggest element common to all of the delays is the question of who should be allowed to vote.

President Laurent Gbagbo brought about the latest postponement by firing the electoral commission because he said it had illegally registered as many as 400,000 voters. Mr. Gbagbo's political opponents accused him of trying to indefinitely postpone the vote and vowed not to join a new coalition government until the electoral commission is reconstituted.

But even with a new electoral commission, there remains the question of voter eligibility. The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Ivory Coast Y.J. Choi says the solution is to extend voter registration.

Choi says political leaders have agreed to reopen voter registration until March 21 with the goal of publishing a definitive electoral list by March 31. He says that will allow for a presidential election by the beginning of May.

Choi told reporters in Dakar that the delay in the electoral process is regrettable. He said that since the start of the year, seven weeks have been lost, calling it "regrettable." Choi said the delay has weakened the electoral dynamic in Ivory Coast, but that he is hopeful it will work now that the various political parties have agreed on a new government.

That new government still depends on the composition of a new electoral commission. President Gbagbo's political opponents controlled the last commission, and members of his party's youth wing say they will stage protests to block a new commission, if it too is lead by the opposition.

The much-delayed vote is meant to reunite the country after a civil war in 2002 and 2003. The former rebel group now represented in government says it will try to win the chairmanship of the new electoral commission.