UN calls on Ivory Coast to accept poll results

AP News
Posted: Nov 01, 2010 8:17 PM
UN calls on Ivory Coast to accept poll results

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on rival parties in Ivory Coast on Monday to accept results from the West African nation's first election since civil war split the cocoa-producing country in half nearly a decade ago.

Electoral workers began counting ballots shortly after polls closed Sunday, and have blamed logistic problems and heavy rains for delaying the release of an initial, preliminary tally.

Ban appealed on candidates to "play their part in maintaining a calm environment," his spokesperson said in a statement. The U.N. chief also "urges them to accept the proclaimed and certified results, filing any complaints through the legally established mechanisms."

The vote is seen as a critical turning point in Ivory Coast's history. Many hope it will restore stability and reunify the country, but some also fear it could spark more violence if political rivals fail to accept the outcome.

Electoral commission spokesman Bamba Yacouba said authorities at electoral headquarters in Abidjan were "studying and compiling" results from the poll, which are being delivered to the office in the county's largest city from 20,000 polling stations nationwide. No significant tallies have been released so far.

The commission had been expected to issue some results late Sunday, but logistic problems have delayed the task. Electoral commission chief Youssouf Bakayoko said heavy rains in some parts of the country were to blame for bogging down vehicles transporting certified ballots. Despite such obstacles, he said final results would be reported by Wednesday as scheduled.

The ballot pits 65-year-old President Laurent Gbagbo against 13 challengers, including 68-year-old opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, who is wildly popular in the pro-rebel north, and 76-year-old ex-president Henri Konan Bedie, who was toppled in 1999 when the nation's first coup.

If no candidate wins a simple majority, the top two finishers will face off in a second round Nov. 28.

The vote had been delayed for five years because of disputes over voter rolls. Gbagbo, whose five-year mandate officially expired in 2005, stayed in office claiming elections were impossible because of a 2002-2003 war that left rebels in control of the north.

Young-jin Choi, the U.N.'s special representative to Ivory Coast, praised the vote for being held peacefully and said top candidates had all given him personal "guarantees they would respect the results" _ some of them as recently as Monday morning.

"I'm confident that the result will be respected and there will be no violence," said Choi, who oversees a 9,000-strong peacekeeping force.

Ivory Coast has been struggling to hold the vote since a 2007 peace deal broke years of political stalemate, leading to the dismantlement of a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that had marked the divide between the rebel-held north and the loyalist south.

One major issue at the heart of the crisis took three years to tackle: deciding who could legitimately vote.

More than a quarter of the country's 20 million people are foreign immigrants who came to work on cocoa and coffee plantations in the south. Differentiating them from native Ivorians with roots and names common in neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali has taken years.

Gbagbo's party believes countless foreigners have falsified documents to vote in an opposition- and rebel-fueled plot to skew the poll. Even Ouattara, they say, is not really from Ivory Coast. Ouattara and his supporters vehemently deny the allegations, and contend the process has merely helped cement legitimate rights to citizenship.

Despite perceived imperfections, though, all parties have accepted the 5.7-million-strong voter roll and the U.N. deemed it credible.