ABIDJAN - Less than half the candidates in this month's Ivory Coast presidential election signed a good conduct pledge on Wednesday as some opposition politicians said the vote would not be democratic and risked turning violent.
President Alassane Ouattara is heavily favored to win re-election in the October 25 ballot meant to draw a line under a decade-long crisis which ended in a civil war that killed over 3,000 people after the last presidential vote in 2010.
The campaign period officially opens on Friday. The code of conduct, drafted with help from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), urges candidates to renounce fraud and violence before, during and after the polls.
It was signed by Ouattara, his likely main challenger Pascal Affi N'Guessan of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), and the two women candidates Henriette Lagou and Jacqueline-Claire Kouangoua.
"We are here to show our willingness, the willingness of the Ivorian Popular Front, to ensure that these elections are fair and peaceful and allow Ivory Coast turn the page on all the violence," N'Guessan told journalists following the ceremony.
The document was signed just a day after ex-foreign minister Amara Essy, a member of the National Coalition for Change (CNC) opposition bloc, suspended his participation in the election process, claiming it was undemocratic and dominated by Ouattara.
Call for dialogue
The CNC has called for direct dialogue with the government to discuss grievances including security concerns, demands for the restructuring of the election commission and more state media coverage of its candidates.
Speaking on Tuesday, Ouattara rejected CNC claims that its candidates risked being attacked if they campaigned.
"Ivory Coast is in peace. Ivory Coast is in security. People are holding marches, holding rallies on the eve of the campaign. There is no problem," he said.
No candidates from the CNC, which includes former prime minister Charles Konan Banny, ex-parliament speaker Mamadou Koulibaly and Kouadio Konan Bertin, once the youth leader of the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), signed the document.
"It's a very open process and I am confident that in the coming days we'll be able to collect the signatures from the candidates," said Christopher Fomunyoh, NDI's senior associate for Africa.
However, at a rally in the commercial capital Abidjan later on Wednesday, CNC members said they were not ready to go to elections under the current conditions and repeated a demand for direct talks with Ouattara.
"Campaigning opens in two days. We're waiting for a round table," Koulibaly told thousands of cheering CNC supporters. "If in 48 hours we don't have clear discussions, we will notify you. I won't say anything more, but you're intelligent."