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Ivory Coast casts a vote for the future

Country holds first major election since 3,000 people died in widespread violence during the 2010 presidential polls.
Last modified: 21 Apr 2013 19:07

The atmosphere at the Lac Two polling station in Koumassi, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, was calm on Sunday.

Voting for hundreds of mayors and local councillors seemed to get off to a slow start. There were queues of just seven to ten people in many of the lines leading to voting booths.

There could be several reasons for the slow start. This is the first major election in Ivory Coast since 3,000 people died in election violence during the 2010 presidential polls. The then-president Laurent Gbagbo lost the election but refused to hand over power to the winner, Alassane Ouattara.

This time around Ivorians are voting for hundreds of mayors and local councillors. There are 20,000 polling stations and more than 5.7 million voters registered. Still, there's a feel that many people may not vote because they are afraid of violence.

There is also feeling that Ivorians lack confidence in the ability of the election authorities to conduct a free and fair election.

The United Nations, which has nearly 10,000 peacekeepers in Ivory Coast, is playing no role during the vote. This raises the question of whether Ivorian security forces have the capacity to deal with tension or violence.

There have also been few reforms within the country's election commission since the 2010 catastrophe. The commission was partly responsible for the botched victory announcement in the 2010 presidential election when images of a fist fight between election commissioners unveiling results were played out live on national television.

The same election boss from 2010 is managing the vote today. The party of former president Gbagbo, the Ivorian Popular Front, is boycotting the vote on the grounds that the election commission is not impartial.

This election is still significant. First, it pits Ouattara's ruling Rally for Republicans party, against the party of his key coalition partner Henri Konan Bedie, the Party for Democracy in Ivory Coast.

These parties joined forces to defeat Gbagbo in 2010, and remain in coalition. So, for many, the divisions within the political bloc have raised questions over whether Ouattara can win the presidency in 2015 without Bedie's support. Today's vote is a litmus test for the future.

The divide between these ruling partners will show during the election with Ivorians expected to vote along party lines.

There are also hundreds of independent candidates, which analysts say are a result of infighting within both parties. Ethnicity, regionalism and tribalism will also come into play.

Ouattara's support is largely from the north, while Bedie's party is seen as representing the interests of people from central Ivory Coast.

Ivorians hope that no matter what the outcome is for candidates and parties, that things will go peacefully. That might mean less people come out to vote, because they feel that is a way to maintain peace and avoid trouble.