Ivory Coast has suspended its voter registration process indefinitely because of rising tensions, the government said, casting doubt on when the long delayed presidential election would take place.
The elections are badly needed to end years of instability and stalemate following a 2002-3 war that cut the world’s top cocoa grower in two, leaving the north in the hands of rebels.
“The prime minister informs all the structures and all the services of the state implicated in this operation that the (voter list) contestation period in process in the courts is suspended until further notice,” Government Secretary General Felix Tyeoulou said in a statement on national TV yesterday.
This was “following consultations concerning the tensions created by the process of validating the provisional voter list,” he said.
The process of registering voters has been tortuous and fraught with disputes over Ivorian nationality and who is eligible to vote explosive issues in a country that went to war over them.
Elections have been repeatedly postponed since 2005 but had been scheduled for the end of this month or early next, a deadline that has seemed impossible since a spat erupted between President Laurent Gbagbo and the electoral commission over names on the electoral register.
Gbagbo has accused electoral commission boss Robert Mambe of attempting to add some 430 000 names to the voter register that did not have their Ivorian identity cross-checked.
Mambe says he was never going to add the names without conducting the checks and that they were leaked in an attempt to smear the commission.
Representatives from the government and opposition met in Burkina Faso yesterday for talks on the crisis mediated by regional dealmaker and Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore.
Many Ivorians have grown cynical over talk about elections.
Control Risks analyst Hannah Koep warned of the dangers of yet more election delays at a time when Ivory Coast is experiencing rolling power cuts.
“So far election preparations have been at such a high level that people were not directly affected. But it has got explosive as the lists touch on people’s individual participation in the process,” she said.
“That combination of the socioeconomic and political crises is quite an explosive mix.
We have seen how fast it can go wrong,” she said, referring to previous political demonstrations that have turned violent.
No more delays
Opposition candidates Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara accuse Gbagbo of deliberately creating obstacles for the process to keep himself in power.
“There have already been delays. We will not accept another one,” said Innocent Anaky, a member of the opposition Movement of Future Forces. “Gbagbo clearly doesn’t want to go to elections.”
Six million voters registered to vote, but around a million were contested on grounds of nationality.
Descendents of migrants from Burkina Faso and Mali and Ivorians with ties to them in the mainly Muslim north remain targets of xenophobia. Many fear being disenfranchised by the voter registration process.
Rioters burned down a government building in rebel-held western Ivory Coast on Tuesday over the government’s handling of the polls.
Under a peace deal signed in 2007, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a former rebel, has the power to intervene in the electoral process or even halt it.
Pic: Ivorians protesting