Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara were neck and neck in a presidential election with around half the votes counted, according to election commission figures released so far.
With the results in from just over 2.2 million votes, of an estimated 4.2 million cast, Gbagbo and Ouattara, a former prime minister and senior IMF official, had secured 35 percent of the votes, a Reuters tally of figures announced on Wednesday showed.
If the trend continues, a second round will be needed. Henri Konan Bedie, the third main candidate, trailed with 27 percent in a poll intended to draw a line under eight years of political and military stalemate since a 2002-3 war divided the world’s top cocoa growing nation, Reuters reports.
International observers praised Ivory Coast’s long-delayed poll on Sunday, but concerns had risen over the lack of results and the subsequent mounting tensions in the days that followed.
The head of Ivory Coast’s army went on state television to call for calm on Tuesday, hours before the electoral commission started to release the results.
Diplomats have sought to convince the election commission to release results as they came in, rather than wait until a Wednesday deadline. Ivory Coast’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro also urged the commission to hurry up its work.
“We are not in a hurry, we are taking our time … it is very important what we are doing,” election commission spokesman Bamba Yacouba said on state television as he read out results.
Ivorians had long feared such a close race would result in widespread street violence if it is disputed — as has happened before during elections in the volatile West African state.
Cocoa exporters said they had stopped operations in port towns. The streets of Abidjan were empty long before the rush hour normally starts in the lagoon-side commercial capital as residents went home early.
Analysts doubt anyone can secure an outright win, so a second round is likely.
The election, delayed six times, is due to pave the way for reforms of a cocoa sector that feeds 40 percent of world demand.
The election commission confirmed some logistical delays but vowed to meet the Wednesday deadline for a provisional tally.
All candidates have come under concerted pressure by the U.N. — which deployed 9,500 peacekeeping soldiers and police to secure the vote — and foreign powers to accept the results and not bring their supporters out onto the streets.