Ivory Coast Holds Vote as Ouattara Eyes Legislative Power

Voters in Ivory Coast casted their ballots in the first legislative election in more than a decade, a poll that’s likely to shore up support for President Alassane Ouattara as he pushes to overhaul the cocoa industry.

Voting started at 7 a.m. local time. Polls will stay open until 5 p.m. As many as 1,160 candidates are vying for 255 seats, with about 5.7 million voters eligible to cast their ballots. The results will be announced by Dec. 18 at the latest, Youssouf Bakayoko, head of the electoral commission, said on its website.

“The election is unfolding in a positive and calm atmosphere”, Bert Koenders, head of United Nations operations in the Ivory Coast, said in an e-mailed statement.

The party of former leader Laurent Gbagbo is boycotting the National Assembly vote as he faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat in a November 2010 presidential vote sparked five months of violence that killed as many as 3,000 people

“These elections are important because they will give us a proper parliament,” said 31-year-old Serges Gbahou after casting a vote in a residential suburb of Abidjan.

Ouattara, 69, wants to guarantee farmers as much as 60 percent of the international cocoa price to spur investment and output in the world’s biggest producer of the chocolate ingredient. Those plans are part of wider reforms in the industry, including dissolving regulatory bodies, required by the International Monetary Fund before it considers debt relief for the West African nation.

Economic Growth

Ivory Coast’s economy is recovering from a civil war that stalled output in the first quarter. Economic expansion of 8.5 percent is projected in 2012 from a 5.8 percent contraction this year, according to the Finance Ministry. Better management of the economy may help the government resume interest payments on defaulted $2.3 billion Eurobonds in June, Norbert Kobenan, an aide to the finance minister, said Nov. 21.

The election is “an important step toward national reconciliation,” Koenders told reporters Dec. 9. “Reconciliation will be an asset for economic and social development.”

Gbagbo, 66, was charged at the ICC in The Hague last week after being captured in Abidjan in April when Ouattara’s forces, with support from United Nations and French troops, took over the city. Several members of Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivorien party, which had ruled for a decade, were arrested or left the country.

Violent Past

The move by the FPI to stay away from the poll may lead to clashes in parts of the country’s south where the party derived support, according to Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, managing director of New York-based DaMina Advisors LLP. “The results could be discredited,” he said in an e-mailed note.

The country’s violent past, capped by the post-election crisis this year, may result in apathy for politics, leading to low voter turnout in the election, said Dominique Assale Aka, vice chairman of the Abidjan-based Ivorian Civil Society Convention.

At least three people were killed when a hand grenade exploded outside a campaign office Dec. 7 in Grand Lahou, 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Abidjan. Three more were injured, said Jean Djaha, a candidate with the Parti Democratique de Cote d’Ivoire.

“The behavior of politicians has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the population,” he said in a Dec. 6 interview.

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