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?

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