Ivory Coast’s opposition leader has condemned a curfew imposed the day before a historic election that could restore stability to the world’s biggest cocoa producer after a decade of unrest.
The west African country’s President Laurent Gbagbo issued a decree calling for a nationwide curfew from 10pm to 6am local time from Saturday to Wednesday to prevent any tampering with vote counting. But opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara said the move was illegal, unconstitutional and would open the door to electoral fraud. He said a curfew should only come after the election if there was trouble.
The run-off election is supposed to be the last step in a drawn-out peace process to put an end to a civil war that broke out in Ivory Coast in 2002 and left the country divided between a rebel-held north and a government-held south.
The war led to eight years of stalemate, during which time unemployment skyrocketed from 13% to nearly 50%, according a US government estimate. At the same time, almost half of the population fell into poverty, according to the World Food Programme.
Ivory Coast, once a model of development and stability, now ranks 164th out of 177 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index.
Mr Gbagbo’s five-year mandate officially expired in 2005, but he extended his stay in office, arguing elections were impossible because armed rebels still controlled the northern half of the country.
The 2007 peace deal broke years of political stalemate, leading to the dismantlement of a UN-patrolled buffer zone. But the vote was delayed repeatedly because of disputes over electoral rolls.
Ivory Coast held the first round of voting at the end of October that was certified with only minor irregularities by international observers. Mr Gbagbo won the first round with 38% of the vote, followed by Mr Ouattara with 32%. Former president Henri Konan Bedie came third with 25% and endorsed Mr Ouattara in the run-off.
Clashes in recent days between supporters have led to at least two deaths and there have been reports of voter intimidation in Gagnoa, where Mr Bedie’s support is strong.There were also several top-level public defections and analysts believe much of Mr Bedie’s electorate, concentrated in the centre of the country, will stay home, either because they are not motivated to vote for Ouattara or because they have received threats.
Campaign rhetoric has been hardening in the weeks leading up to this poll, with both candidates accusing each other of being responsible for the coups that led to the civil war.