Ivory Coast’s electoral commission said yesterday it had settled all legal disputes over its provisional voter list, paving the way for a final list to be drawn up and the long delayed poll to go ahead.
But President Laurent Gbagbo accused the commission (CEI) of failing to deal thoroughly with all contested cases, saying it had admitted hundreds of thousands of possibly illegitimate names onto the register.
The elections, which have been repeatedly postponed since 2005, are badly needed to end years of stalemate and uncertainty after a 2002-3 war split West Africa’s former economic giant in two, leaving the north controlled by rebels.
The polls are currently scheduled for around the end of February, though with no date fixed.
“We finished the process last night,” said Bamba Yacouba, a spokesperson for the commission. “We are now in the phase of validating the list. In principle, that means we should have the final list ready by the end of January.”
Six million Ivorians registered to vote in the world’s top cocoa grower, but a million of those were contested, many on grounds they were not really Ivorian; a sensitive issue in a country that fought a civil war over nationality disputes.
In a statement read out by his spokesman on national TV late on Saturday, Gbagbo said 429 000 disputed cases had been registered without being carefully examined.
“They should have been treated with the utmost rigour to inspire the trust of everyone for a just, credible and transparent vote,” he said. “No fraud, no manipulation, no tinkering of any kind can be tolerated … from the CEI.”
Ivory Coast has come under intense international pressure to hurry the poll, particularly from France and the United Nations, which run expensive peacekeeping operations there.
So many poll deadlines have been missed on Ivory Coast’s road to peace that opposition leaders and some Western diplomats suspect Gbagbo of deliberately delaying the process to prolong his mandate by stealth, a charge he denies.
Addressing diplomats last Wednesday, Gbagbo reiterated a call to complete the process properly rather than rush and botch it.
Donor nations and UN officials say the country has the resources to move quickly.
“We can’t delay the election any longer,” said a diplomat involved in the peace process, who declined to be named.
“It is not responsible, it is not convincing. You cannot just sit and say: ‘wait until it’s finished.’ That can take forever. This is where we wonder what could be the real intentions and whether this is a political obstacle, not technical”.
During a tour of African nations, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he had cancelled a planned trip to Ivory Coast yesterday because of delays to the voter roll, accusing it of going “from postponement to postponement.”