Low turnout as Ivorians vote in presidential election

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Ivorians were voting Sunday amid tight security in presidential elections that look set to re-elect incumbent Alassana Ouattara.

Just five years after poll violence brought Ivory Coast to its knees, the country’s cocoa-driven economy is thriving – which is good news for Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund economist, who is seen as the architect of the success.

With unemployment falling and the economy growing at nearly 10 per cent, Ouattara, 73, is the favourite to win amid a crowd of seven other candidates. It would be his second five-year term in office.

Some 6.3 million people are registered to vote, according to the electoral commission (CEI). But it appeared that a boycott by some candidates was ensuring low turnout, especially in the capital, Abidjan, compared to the 2010 election.

Victoire Alley, CEI spokeswoman, told dpa that a high turnout was not expected. “More than 50 per cent of the voters cards have been withdrawn,” she said.

“Many voters are at church and they will only head to vote centres after Sunday service,” Marc Atte, a chief electoral officer, said at a polling station in the Cocody district of Abidjan.

Three of the initial 10 presidential candidates – including former prime ministers Konan Banny and Mamadou Koulibaly – withdrew from the race, saying they did not expect fair and free elections.

In Abidjan’s north-western district of Yopougon, a stronghold of former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters, polling stations were empty.

“Despite the facade of transparency, fairness and the number of candidates, this is an election with only one candidate – Ouattara,” said student Yves Sehoue, 26.

“And we all know the outcome. Why then, should we go to poll if everything is already biased in favour of Ouattara,” Sehoue added, explaining why local residents were staying home.

Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and POECI, a key civil society group, were present at polling stations across the country.

“Everything unfolds calmly. No irregularities have yet been reported,” said Julius Amani, one of the observers.

Georges Mabre, a civil society coalition spokesman based in the south-western region of Gagnoa, told dpa by phone that some polling stations were yet to receive voting booths and ballot boxes, while voters had been since early morning in front of the centres.

At CEI headquarters in Abidjan, electoral officers said that in areas where there was delayed opening of polls, the chief electoral officer will decide whether to extend voting time.

Voting stations opened at 8 am (0800 GMT) and are due to close at 6 pm (1800 GMT). Results are expected no later than 72 hours after voting stations close.

A run-off vote is required one month later if no candidate has won a majority of 50 per cent of the votes.

“We were afraid and thought the poll would be marred by violence as we thought the youth backing candidates who withdrew would intimidate other voters and would prevent them from voting. But none of this is happening,” said Kone Mariam, an Abidjan-based teacher.

Ivory Coast’s economic performance has lured investors in the past four years, with growth reported at 10.7 per cent in 2012, 8.7 per cent in 2013 and 9-10 per cent in 2014, according to the World Bank. It’s a stark contrast to 2011, when the economy shrank by 4.7 per cent.

In the 2010 presidential polls, Ouattara’s Rally of Republicans won 32 per cent of the vote in the first round. He formed a coalition with the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), which gave him a majority in the run-off against Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

The African Union and United States recognized Ouatarra as the winner, but Gbago challenged the vote count and a civil war erupted, in which 3,000 people were killed.

Gbagbo was arrested and is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the conflict.

Earlier this year, the FPI chose Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 62, as its candidate to challenge Ouattara in the election.

N’Guessan is seeking to overcome an internal party split that has seen hardliners party call to boycott the polls.

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