Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has urged patience with the country’s long-delayed elections, saying he was more concerned about avoiding a new civil war than hurrying the potentially divisive poll.
Speaking overnight before a meeting with mediators in neighbouring Burkina Faso yesterday, Gbagbo reacted to demands from the opposition in the world’s top cocoa grower to fix a new date for the vote.
"For us, it is not enough to go to elections. We are emerging from a war and we want to hold elections without returning to war because of them," Gbagbo announced on arriving in the Burkina capital late on Tuesday.
No new date has been set for the election since it was acknowledged that it would not go ahead as planned on November 29.
That was the latest in a long line of missed deadlines for a poll supposed to take place in 2005. Critics accuse Gbagbo of deliberately delaying the election, but he has repeatedly denied this.
Analysts say the delays have prolonged a political deadlock dating back to the 2002-03 civil war that has prevented key reforms to the cocoa industry and unnerved potential investors in west Africa’s former economic hub.
"Better to go to elections late and have no more conflict than hold the elections quickly and have people die," Gbagbo said, echoing similar sentiments from United Nations special envoy Young-Jin Choi in September.
Gbagbo has cited technical problems to explain delays. The process has most recently been plagued by confusion over whether around 1 million residents are Ivorian and eligible to vote.
Questions of nationality are deeply divisive and disputes over them fuelled the civil war that split the country in two, leaving the north in the hands of rebels.
In an interview with France 24 aired yesterday, Gbagbo brushed off the question of when the elections might be held, saying that was up to the electoral commissioner.
"It’s our affair," he said. "Leave us alone to do our work. We know what we are doing.
I’m telling you there will be an election without war. That’s what’s important."