By Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivorians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election which is expected to see the ruling coalition of President Alassane Ouattara strengthen its rule in the world's top cocoa producing nation.
More than 5 million voters are expected to cast their ballots in an election that marks the first time in a decade that the West African nation is able to elect a parliament.
The vote, boycotted by the party of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo over allegations of unfair treatment of Gbagbo supporters, is seen as a crucial step toward recovery after a decade of conflict and political turmoil.
By midday, turnout was slow in places such as Yopougon, a pro-Gbagbo stronghold in the commercial capital Abidjan where officials said turnout at polling stations was at about 100 out of 400 registered voters.
Ouattara urged Ivorians to vote after casting his ballot at a polling station in Abidjan.
"I'll like to ask my compatriots to go and vote for their parliamentary candidates, this parliament has an essential role to play. We are going to continue the electoral process in March or April 2012 with municipal and regional election," he said.
Ouattara's ruling coalition, which includes his RDR party and the allied PDCI, appears set for a landslide win based on voting patterns during the first-round of last year's presidential polls.
"We are far from the influx seen during last year's presidential election. In our polling station, 100 people have already voted out of 400. By this time during presidential election, we had close to 300 already," said Siriki Traore head of a polling station in Yopougon
"Maybe people will come in the afternoon," he said.
Ouattara won presidential elections in November 2010 but was only able to take the reins of power in April after fighters backing him invaded the economic capital Abidjan and captured ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo, who had rejected the results.
Gbagbo has appeared at the International Criminal Court at The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape.
Pockets of lingering tension and violence in parts of the country, particularly in the west, have reinforced worries of trouble during the polls, which will be secured by local and United Nations forces.
Ivory Coast defense minister said the government had taken measures to ensure security during the vote with police, gendarmes and army deployed across the country.
"We have deployed about 25,000 troops on the ground to deal with any eventuality. We have closed the border in the west of the country to avoid any incidents and strengthen our security apparatus as well," Paul Koffi Koffi told journalists, adding that no incidents had been reported so far.
In Gagnoa, Gbagbo's birthplace in the west, the tension remains palpable over his transfer to The Hague.
"There are SMS messages circulating in the area asking people not to vote," said Joel Zadi who lives on the outskirts of Gagnoa. "People did not like Gbagbo's transfer."
Nearly 1,000 candidates are vying for the National Assembly's 255 seats, according to the electoral commission.
The results of the poll are expected during the week.
(Additional reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Matthew Jones)