Monday, November 29, 2010

Run-off by Internet

I am watching the run-off like expatriate Ivorians—on the Internet. The nationwide mood of calm determination I experienced at the end of October has evaporated. Bitter accusations were hurled between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo in the last days of the campaign. Each accused the other of instigating the violence that has plagued Ivory Coast. But just when it seemed the campaign was slipping irretrievably into the danger zone, the two candidates backed off. Thursday night, as we ate Thanksgiving Dinner here, Ouattara and Gbagbo participated in a ninety-minute debate on Ivorian national television moderated by a journalist. It was both polite and substantive. The face-to-face debate was a first for Ivory Coast and may well be a first for West Africa. Even from here, I could feel the national sigh of relief.

But perhaps it was too little too late.

On Saturday, the day before the run-off, violence broke out. And now, as night falls on Election Day in Ivory Coast, at least six people have died.

Today I called friends to ask them how their Election Day had gone. In the neighborhood of Abobo, where three youths were killed on Saturday when soldiers fired live bullets at demonstrators protesting the curfew, Adama’s son Chekoroba, a university student, said that he was anxious. He was unable to vote because he had registered in Korhogo, his hometown in the north, so he stayed home all day. “There are young men on both sides in this neighborhood with rocks and machetes,” he said. “It is very worrisome.” He called his younger brother, who was staying in another neighborhood of Abidjan, and told him not to go out.

Also in Abobo, Dofongyoh, a schoolteacher, said turnout was down at the polling place where she worked. She thought the curfew made people nervous and kept them home, even though it didn't start until ten p.m.

Pauline, a friend, professor, and Gbagbo supporter, said that when she went to vote in an upper class neighborhood of Abidjan, the turnout was considerably lower than the first time. She thought it was because voters feared for their security. But she also thought that many people who voted the first time were not really Ivorian and stayed home, afraid of being found out this time.

Another friend, Lanzini, was at a polling place in a neighborhood of Abidjan called Marcory when I called. He found the low turnout a bad omen for his candidate, Ado. Nor was he pleased about the curfew from ten p.m. Sunday night to six a.m. Monday morning. He felt it made the vote count less transparent, although the curfew does not apply to members of the Independent Electoral Commission, journalists, or election observers.

In Korhogo, my friend Fofana was upbeat. Out of 338 registered voters at his neighborhood polling place, 280 had voted. The turnout was almost as high as the first round, but the voting went more quickly. With only two choices rather than fourteen, voters quickly found their candidate on the ballot. He said his neighborhood was peaceful, but in another part of Korhogo, Gbagbo’s campaign manager had his car windows broken out. The rumors in Korhogo say that he was bribing youths to vote for Gbagbo and trying to vote in more than one polling place. (This second accusation seems unlikely for someone so well known.)

On the national news, the spokesman for the LMP (La Majorité Presidentielle--Gbagbo's party) decried this event and listed others perpetrated by members of the New Forces against Gbagbo supporters. He asked to have the vote in the northern zone annulled. No spokesperson for the RHDP or the New Forces appeared on the news program to respond. No explanation for this one-sided coverage was given by the anchor.

Now comes the risky part--the announcement of the winner and the loser. Will the loser accept the results as both candidates have promised to do?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

RUN-OFF: Gbagbo-Ouattara

November 4, 2010 1:10 am

Just after midnight, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), Youssouf Bakayoko, finally announced what everyone here had figured out themselves by piecing together the numbers. The run-off will be between outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo of the FPI Party and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara of the RDR Party.

Gbagbo came in first with 38.3% of the vote. Ouattara was second with 33.08%. Former president Bedié received 25.24% of the votes cast. Bedié's PDCI, the former single party in the country, made a statement questioning the results and asking for a recount.

Voters here in Korhogo, in the northern part of the country, were intensely disappointed today as 80% support Ouattara. They had hoped that the rest of the country would follow their lead and that Ouattara, whom everyone calls Ado, would win in the first round.

Ivorians were worn out with waiting. Many sat listlessly Wednesday, unable to concentrate on anything but why the results were taking so long. Even the favorite Ivorian pastime of sharing conspiracy theories and rumors lost its lustre. Anxious observers criticized the slow announcement and urged the CEI to get moving.

Overall, the election went amazingly well. Election observers here from the Carter Center and the European Union noted only minor infractions. Even the slow announcement of results, they remarked unofficially, was the result of disorganization rather than any intention to deceive.

Eighty percent of Ivorians turned out to vote, and in some places, the percentage was as high as 86%. Election day was animated by a remarkable spirit of mutual respect and civic determination. After nearly ten years of crisis, Ivorians flocked to classrooms turned into polling places to cast their ballots for a peaceful reunification of their country. They desperately want a return to normal life and to restart the engine of their stalled economy.

Worn Out With Waiting

Worn out with waiting for the election results and disappointed that her candidate didn't win in the first round, Nawa Koné, a young widow and mother of two, sat listlessly Wednesday afternoon waiting for news.

She and her family were awakened in the middle of the night before the election when neighbors knocked on their door. Unless everyone got out of bed and bathed in cold water, the war would start again, they were told. Although the neighborhood has no running water, everyone in the area drew well water and did as they were told. They were afraid not to.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Armchair Still Empty

There are lots of armchairs in the market in Korhogo but there is only one armchair that counts right now.

The Presidential Armchair.

Will someone sit down after the first round? Or will we go to the second round at the end of November?

The wait is driving everyone crazy and rumors are flying. Ado first round! Ado and Bedié second round! Ado and Gbagbo second round! Text messages and phone calls are zipping around the country as friends and relatives pass on their local results.

Some provisional results were read out last night by the spokesperson from the Independent Electoral Commission, but many departments and some heavily populated neighborhoods of Abidjan were not among them. Since eighty percent of people here support the RDR candidate, Alassane Ouattara, they are worried.

"We only have one thing on our minds!" said Natalie Coulibaly, who sells fruit in the market, "Since the day before yesterday. The results!"

The longer the wait, the more the suspicions mount. Here is what people say:

"If the party in power had won, we would have known by now. They are trying to block the announcement."

"The Independent Electoral Commission? Independent!?! They are dependent on the head of the government!"

"They will announce it at midnight when everyone is sleeping so there is less violence."

"We are counting on these elections to bring peace and for things to be normal again. Ten years of war is enough. If we have a new president, things will normalize."

"NO SECOND ROUND! It will give the troublemakers too much time to organize."

Felix Awantang, an observer from the American Embassy: "The people have spoken. Now it's time for us to listen."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tempers Flare in Korhogo and New Forces Calm the Troubled Waters

Tempers flared today in Korhogo as the teachers and others who had worked for the Independent Electoral Commission demanded their salaries for the long day they worked on Sunday. They were at their posts before the polls opened at seven and many did not finish the vote count until midnight. A crowd of several hundred besieged the office of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI). "We're hungry! We need our money!" they called out. "It's not right. We worked. Now we need our pay!"

There were 713 polling places in the Department of Korhogo, with three election officials working at each. The pollworker who served as president is due a salary of 15,000 CFA (about $32.00), and the other two are each supposed to receive 10,000 CFA (about $21.00).

The political chief of the ex-rebellion New Forces in Korhogo, Kagnigué Soro (in black striped shirt) promised that the money would arrive shortly.

The New Forces Commander of Korhogo, Martin K. Fofié, made a rare public appearance at the office of the Independent Electoral Commission about noon on Tuesday. Below he is seen greeting United Nations security forces on his arrival. Fofié has been sanctioned by the United Nations for an incident during the rebellion in which prisoners who had been locked in a container suffocated.

The pollworkers moved to the Prefecture and waited, but at nightfall, not a franc had been distributed. Nawa Soro, who was waiting outside the Prefecture, worked as secretary at a polling place in Daboka. "It went so well. We don't want problems now," he said. "But we need the money."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Election Day in Katiali!

Women wait their turn to vote.

This woman walked eleven kilometers to vote!

The ballot.

Pollworkers dip a voter's finger in ink.

Member of the New Forces (ex-rebellion) shows his authorization to provide security.

Counting the ballots to make sure all are there before counting votes.

Counting the votes and filling out the paperwork by lantern light.