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Voter List Still an Election Obstacle in Ivory Coast

Debate continues in Ivory Coast over the creation of a definitive voter list, despite pressure from the United Nations Security Council this week to hold the country's long-delayed presidential elections as soon as possible.

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The U.N. Security Council urged Ivory Coast Wednesday to hold presidential elections as soon as possible and expressed concern at the continuing delays.

But before elections can be held a definitive voter list must be published. The creation of that list has so far proven to be an insurmountable obstacle. Progress is currently at a standstill.

Political tensions

U.N. special envoy to Ivory Coast, Young-jin Choi, told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday that political tensions that began in January following the production of a second electoral list have resulted in a "serious weakening of electoral momentum."

"It is quite regrettable to see the elections once again delayed. Our disappointment is all the more acute as elections which have been prepared for so long appeared within our grasp at the time of the establishment of the provisional electoral list last November, which was highly credible and well-balanced," he said.

President Laurent Gbagbo (file photo)
President Laurent Gbagbo (file photo)

The most recent delay came after President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the government and former electoral commission on February 12, sparking violent protests around the country that left seven dead. Mr. Gbagbo had accused the electoral commission of illegally registering as many as 400,000 foreigners.

His political opponents have accused Mr. Gbagbo of stalling elections to remain in power.

A new electoral commission was put in place in late February but has not yet begun its work. Officials had planned on launching a 21-day review process March 1 that would have permitted them to publish a definitive voter list at the end of March, but that appeals process has not yet begun.


The questions of who is Ivorian and who can vote were at the heart of the civil war in 2002 and remain sensitive in Ivory Coast, which has a large immigrant population. Of the more than six million names currently on the provisional voter list, the eligibility of one million voters is still being disputed, mainly on the grounds of nationality.

Affoussy Bamba is the spokeswoman for The New Forces, Ivory Coast's former rebel faction that continues to control the northern part of the country. Bamba says they were pleased with the U.N. Security Council's announcement.

Bamba says the U.N. Security Council, in its announcement, pointed to the fact that the more than 5.3 million voters currently on the provisional voter list have already been agreed upon by consensus in Ivory Coast and certified by U.N. representatives. She says they were pleased by Choi's statement that the provisional list published in November was highly credible and well-balanced.

The presidential camp is asking that the entire provisional voter list be brought under review, including the more than five million names already on the list.

Provisional list

New Forces' spokeswoman Bamba says they cannot agree with this plan quite simply because the provisional list has already been agreed upon. She says we are not saying that this list is perfect, but she says we don't see these ineligible people who are supposedly registered on this list. She says if there are indeed people registered dishonestly on the list, proof needs to be presented to remove them.

After briefing the Security Council, U.N. envoy Choi told reporters that the current situation is "not encouraging." He said some names on the list would be thrown out and others would be added, once eligibility factors, like nationality, were verified during the appeals process.

The vote is an attempt to find a lasting political solution to nearly a decade of internal conflict, but voter registration issues, particularly issues of nationality and eligibility, pushed back the election several times since President Gbagbo's mandate ran out in 2005.