A European Union mission sent to observe Ivory Coast’s presidential poll accused the nation’s electoral commission of “unacceptable obstruction” raising doubts about the post-war vote’s transparency.
Top cocoa grower Ivory Coast faces a second round run-off election on Sunday between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara.
The poll, which is five years overdue and is likely to be extremely close, is meant to end the military stalemate after a 2002 rebellion split the West African nation in two, Reuters reports.
“The mission deplores the lack of respect by the CEI (independent electoral commission) of its agreements with observers,” it said in a statement.
“Despite a number of requests addressed to the CEI, the EU mission continues to face significant obstacles accessing electoral operations,” it added, with mission chief Cristian Dan Preda complaining of “unacceptable obstruction”
Electoral commission spokesman Bamba Yacouba said by telephone that the commission was not yet informed of the criticisms and so he could not comment.
Apart from a few hiccups with late delivery of electoral materials, the first round on October 31 was praised by observers as peaceful and transparent, at least until the end, when observers complained of being excluded from the counting.
But Preda told Reuters that this time observers were being shut out of the preparations too.
“Our observers are trying to look at the printing of … ballots, but we were prevented from doing so. We were also prevented from observing the training of polling agents,” Preda told Reuters by phone.
“The electoral commission apparently doesn’t understand that we have to follow the whole process … We didn’t have these problems in the first round,” he added.
Preda had criticised the commission during the first round for taking more than three days to announce the results.
The first round result gave Gbagbo the lead with 38 percent, with Ouattara getting 32 percent. Exchanges between the two are becoming increasingly heated as the country approaches round two, with candidates using language many fear could fuel violence between their supporters .
Another observer mission, the Carter Center, urged both to tone down their rhetoric in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Carter Center urges Ivory Coast’s presidential candidates to refrain from the use of negative campaign rhetoric, including personal attacks in a threatening tone.”
“Tensions are rising … as the campaigns heat up.”
A peaceful vote should help pave the way for reforms to the cocoa sector and encourage investors to return.