Ivory Coast’s presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara declared himself the winner of the Nov. 28 election after the United Nations dismissed a claim by the Constitutional Council that incumbent Laurent Gbagbo had won.
UN mission chief, Young-jin Choi, backed results announced by the Electoral Commission that gave victory to Ouattara. The Constitutional Council had said those results were invalid. State television said armed forces chiefs backed Gbagbo and he would be proclaimed president later today.
“The United Nations has just certified the results from the Electoral Commission,” Ouattara told a press conference late yesterday. “Thus, I am the president elect of the Republic of Ivory Coast.”
The election was meant to unite the world’s top cocoa grower, which has been divided into a rebel-held north and government-controlled south since a 2002 uprising. Now, the dispute over the results is threatening to worsen violence that left several dead during the campaign, including at least six people who were killed late on Dec. 1 at an opposition party office by unidentified gunmen.
“I ask all my compatriots to stay calm and preserve the peace,” Ouattara said. “I call once again on my brother Laurent Gbagbo to respect the people’s choice.”
Armed Forces Declaration
Preparations for a ceremony at which Gbagbo will be proclaimed president are under way at the presidential palace in the commercial capital Abidjan amid tight security.
State television screened footage late yesterday of General Philippe Mangou, chief of the armed forces, accompanied by the heads of the police, gendarmerie, navy and Republican Guard, going to congratulate Gbagbo.
“We have come to greet the president of the republic, we are here to express our admiration and to reiterate our availability and our loyalty, and to tell him that we are ready to take on any mission that he will entrust us with,” Mangou said.
Youssouf Bakayoko, president of the electoral commission, said on Dec. 2 that Ouattara won 54.1 percent of the ballot, or 2.5 million votes, while Gbagbo received 45.9 percent, or 2.1 million.
“I, as certifier of this election, have completed the analysis and evaluation of the tally sheets,” Choi told reporters yesterday. “Candidate Ouattara is the winner.”
The Constitutional Council annulled the results in seven regions in the north of the country, alleging irregularities, and gave victory to Gbagbo, Paul Yao N’Dre, its president, said in a statement read on television yesterday.
Choi said the denial of Ouattara’s victory had “no factual basis,” and that “even if all the complaints” about the election “were taken into account,” Ouattara would still be the winner.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the country is “at a crossroads” and urged Gbagbo to accept Ouattara’s victory. “The international community will hold those who act to thwart the democratic process and the will of the electorate accountable for their actions,” he said late yesterday.
Ouattara supporters used tables and pieces of wood to barricade streets and set car tires afire in the Abidjan suburb of Treichville today. Police dressed in riot gear fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd and doused the fires with buckets of water.
“Gbagbo’s desire to hang onto his presidency, seemingly at all costs, could push the country over the edge into another civil war,” Gus Selassi, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in e-mailed comments.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement in New York saying he supports Choi and congratulating Ouattara.
Ban urged Gbagbo and “all Ivorians to accept the certified outcome and to work together in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France described Ouattara’s victory in the former French colony, which became independent in 1960, as “uncontestable and certain,” and called for an orderly transition of power.
“I am calling on the military and civilian authorities to respect the people’s choice and refrain from any initiative that could cause violence,” Sarkozy said today in Bangalore, India, at the start of a four-day state visit.
The council’s “decision is ridiculous and anti-democratic,” Anne Ouloto, a spokeswoman for Ouattara, said by phone. “Laurent Gbagbo has just proclaimed himself president of Ivory Coast through his friend Paul Yao N’Dre. This is a farce.”
The army has sealed off all the country’s borders until further notice, the military said in a statement read out on state television. Foreign television and radio signals have been jammed indefinitely, the National Broadcasting Council said in a separate statement.
The African Union said in an e-mailed statement that it has asked former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to lead an emergency mission to Ivory Coast “to facilitate the rapid and peaceful conclusion of the electoral process and the efforts to find a way out of the crisis.”
Yesterday, the continental grouping expressed “deep concern” at developments in the Ivory Coast, saying the will of the people and the outcome of the election needed to be respected. “Any other approach risks plunging Ivory Coast into a crisis with incalculable consequences for the country, as well as for the region and the continent as a whole,” it said.
Cocoa for March delivery climbed $67, or 2.3 percent, to 2,935 pounds in New York yesterday after jumping 4 percent the day before.
Ivory Coast’s growth has averaged 1.1 percent in the eight years since the conflict started as the cocoa-dependent country missed out on the wave of foreign investment in Africa from nations such as China.
Supporters of Gbagbo, 65, hold Ouattara, 68, responsible for the revolt in 2002, a charge he denies. The rebels say they attempted to seize power because northerners were treated as second-class citizens.
“There is a very strong possibility that if things are not settled within the next couple of weeks, we could see an all-out breakout of violence,” said Oswald Felli, head of security and violent risk assessments with New York-based DaMina Advisors. Regional leaders, including Ghana’s President John Atta Mills and Burkina Faso leader Blaise Compaore, may need to “push for a unity government with Ouattara as the number one, but with Gbagbo retaining some powers,” Felli said in a phone interview.
To contact to reporters on this story: Pauline Bax and Olivier Monnier in Abidjan via Accra at +233-302-258794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.