Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Dec 18 – Ivory Coast voted Sunday in elections that President Alassane Ouattara hopes will strengthen his hold in parliament and keep the world’s top cocoa producer in the economic fast lane.
The authorities ordered some 30,000 security personnel into the streets for the vote in the wake of scattered incidents in recent months, including attacks on police posts.
An election monitor told AFP that the “vote was carried out on the whole peacefully” — though turnout was low — with polls closing and the count beginning just after 6:00 pm (1800 GMT).
The ruling coalition is seeking an absolute majority in the face of numerous dissidents and opposition candidates in the country, which was rocked by deadly unrest after the 2010 presidential election that saw Ouattara oust then leader Laurent Gbagbo.
The opposition, which boycotted the 2011 legislative election, is hoping to make a return to parliament on Sunday.
Provisional results could start being released on Sunday night but the definitive outcome is not expected to be known until Wednesday, according to an official from the independent election commission.
Former prime minister Pascal Affi Nguessan, who leads Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), called for the people to “reestablish the political balance”.
Ivory Coast was long the star economic performer in the region until hitting years of political strife but is now back on the rails.
The International Monetary Fund has said the west African state will be the continent’s fastest-growing economy this year.
“Give me a strong majority to enable me to speed up the work that I have set as an objective in the four years to come,” Ouattara said in a TV broadcast, playing up his economic achievements to win support among the 6.2 million eligible voters.
The presidential coalition — named the Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) in tribute to the country’s founding president — is aiming for an absolute majority in the 255-seat National Assembly.
– ‘Change and development’ –
Most observers and even some in the opposition acknowledge the economic benefits of Ouattara’s rule, but find less convincing the political record of the man known to Ivorians by his initials “ADO”.
National reconciliation remains unfinished, the judiciary is under fire, and the opposition shunned a referendum in October on a divisive new constitution.
“I voted for change and development of my neighbourhood,” said Fousseni Diabate, a 25-year-old shopkeeper after voting at a primary school in Abidjan.
“I want a deputy at the (national) assembly who is close to the people, because I don’t even know the name of the outgoing one for my commune.”
In the country’s second city Bouake, 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Abidjan, polling stations also opened late.
“I voted to allow the Ivory Coast’s president to win a majority in the national assembly, so that he can implement his plan to develop the country,” said Karim Ouattara, a 63-year-old retiree.
The president’s predecessor refused to accept defeat in a long-delayed poll in November 2010, sparking conflict that claimed 3,000 lives before Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011.
Gbagbo is being tried by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
His wife Simone Gbagbo is also on trial in Abidjan on similar charges over the post-2010 election violence.
No fewer than 1,337 candidates are standing in the single-round poll, in which winner takes all in each constituency.
The electoral system has forced Ouattara’s own Rally of Republicans party to find common ground with other parties in the RHDP coalition, particularly its main allies in the Ivory Coast Democratic Party.