ANALYSIS-Ivory Coast risks botched, not just late, election

Source: Reuters

* Election preparations long behind schedule * Analysts worry poll may be held anyway, risking validity By David Lewis DAKAR, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Fears that Ivory Coast will press ahead with an election botched by poor preparation are starting to overshadow concerns that the world’s top cocoa grower may again miss the deadline for the vote. Extensions to complete the voter identification process and last-minute efforts to disarm gunmen still controlling much of the country have offered some hope that polls, first due in 2005, may actually take place on Nov. 29 after countless delays. But analysts fear holding an election before major political, economic and military concerns are properly addressed risks doing more to inflame the situation than to draw a line under a crisis sparked by the 2002-2003 civil war. The list of jobs still to be done remains long. The U.N. described a delay in publishing provisional voter lists as “serious”. A diplomat warned that there was “a lot to be done in the time available” if delays were to be avoided. Election officials must still work out how many of the 6.5 million people registered in Ivory Coast over the last year will be eligible to vote. The figure is estimated at 6 million. Provisional voter lists, initially due to be published in late August, are now expected on Sept. 15. Once published, the lists must be checked and agreed upon by all political parties before voting cards can be printed and distributed. Every step of the process so far has been dogged by complaints over procedures and the lack of money. L’Inter, an Ivorian newspaper that is seen as broadly independent, issued a warning in a Sept. 8 editorial: “Meeting the Nov. 29 deadline for the first round of Ivory Coast’s presidential election is looking increasingly unlikely.” “What will happen if the deadline is not met? Will people accept another delay?” it asked. “PRETTY RISKY” There has been little reaction to previous poll delays. Opposition politicians accuse incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo of stalling to extend his time in power, while the ruling party says polls cannot take place until the rebels, still in de facto control of much of the north, disarm. “With a bit of political will and motivation, they can compress these things. The likelihood of an election may have gone up but a lot of the problems remain so it is still pretty risky,” Richard Moncrieff, director of International Crisis Group’s West Africa project, told Reuters. “The danger is starting to shift from a further delay to elections being held in poor circumstances,” Moncrieff added. The conflict and years of political bickering have contributed to rising socio-economic tensions and, whereas disputes over elections in Congo Republic, Gabon, Niger and Mauritania have blown over, a troubled Ivorian poll would have an impact on the country’s economy and the region as a whole. Many of Ivory Coast’s factions still remain heavily armed, despite numerous disarmament plans. Disarmament is meant to be completed two months before any election can take place. But this remains far behind schedule. Some 500 New Forces (FN) fighters disarmed this week, bringing to nearly 8,000 the total who have handed in their weapons. But another 18,000 remain and efforts to convince the rebels to abandon lucrative roadblocks and illegal taxation have largely failed. Donors have provided their share of the 36.7 billion CFA francs ($81.48 million) needed for the polls but the government’s contribution, some 10 billion CFA francs, is being paid as and when funds are available. “What could cause problems, is the lack of money,” said Charles Yaovi Djrekpo, head of the National Democratic Institute observer mission in the West African nation. “I get the impression that the foreigners worry more about the date than Ivorians … I don’t think it matters whether it is in 2009 or early 2010. We shouldn’t be obsessed with a date.” RIGHTS UNDERMINED After decades of tolerance for migrant workers, much of the Ivorian crisis has focussed on or been stoked by questions of nationality and who is allowed live or work on the fertile land. Consequently, the question of who is eligible to vote is deeply sensitive on all sides and must be tackled thoroughly. The Civil Society Convention of Ivory Coast (CSCI) election observer team has already flagged the delay in publishing provisional voter lists and the subsequent shorter time to validate them, as a potential flashpoint. “The CSCI believes that this compression of the time allowed risks undermining the rights of voters who might be omitted or irregularities that will affect the voter list,” it said. The Rally for the Republicans (RDR), a veteran opposition party that draws much of its support from northerners who have found themselves targeted by nationalistic policies, has also expressed its concern over the delay. Another worry has emerged in Gbagbo’s recent appointment of long-time ally and party stalwart Paul Yao N’Dre as head of the country’s Constitutional Court, which will validate results. “It would be a shame if President Gbagbo’s camp takes advantage of this to organize a rigged election. This scenario is just as dangerous, if not worse, than a delayed election,” ICG’s Moncrieff said. (Additional reporting by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan; Editing by Giles Elgood)
spotted by RS

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