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Ouattara seeks strong legislative majority as Ivory Coast votes


Alassane Ouattara

Alassane Ouattara

Ivory Coast voted Sunday in elections that President Alassane Ouattara hopes will strengthen his parliamentary majority to help keep the world’s top cocoa producer in the economic fast lane.

The first polling stations opened late around 8:40 am GMT for the ballots, in which the ruling coalition is seeking an absolute majority in the face of numerous dissidents and opposition candidates.

“I voted for change and development of my neighbourhood,” said Fousseni Diabate, a 25-year-old shopkeeper after voting at a primary school in Abidjan’s Adjame district.

“I want a deputy at the (national) assembly who is close to the people, because I don’t even know the name of the outgoing one for my commune,” added Diabate.

The weeklong election campaign was peaceful, but the authorities have ordered some 30,000 security forces into the streets in the wake of scattered incidents in recent months, including attacks on police posts.

“Give me a strong majority to enable me to speed up the work that I have set as an objective in the four years to come,” Ouattara said in a TV broadcast, playing up his economic achievements to win support among the 6.2 million eligible voters.

The country was long the star economic performer in the region until hitting a decade of political strife but is now back on the rails.

The International Monetary Fund has said the west African state will be the continent’s fastest-growing economy this year.

The presidential coalition — named the Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) in tribute to the country’s founding president — aims to take an absolute majority in a National Assembly comprised of 255 members of parliament.

Most observers and even some in the opposition acknowledge the economic benefits of Ouattara’s rule, but find his political record less convincing.

National reconciliation after a decade of strife and violence at the last legislative polls in 2011 remains unfinished, the judiciary is under fire, and the opposition shunned a constitutional referendum in October.

Ouattara, known to Ivorians by his initials “ADO”, has enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly because the opposition boycotted the 2011 elections in the wake of a bloody political crisis.

In the country’s second city Bouake, 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Abidjan, polling stations also opened late.

“I voted to allow the Ivory Coast’s president to win a majority in the national assembly, so that he can implement his plan to develop the country,” said Karim Ouattara, a 63-year-old retiree.

Ouattara’s predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in a long-delayed presidential poll in November 2010, sparking conflict that claimed 3,000 lives before Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011.

Gbagbo is being tried by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity, but part of his former party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), has decided to participate in Sunday’s election.

“The politics of the empty chair hasn’t brought any fruit,” commented former prime minister Pascal Affi Nguessan. “The battle to come is to conquer the National Assembly.”

No fewer than 1,337 candidates are standing in the single-round poll, in which winner takes all in each constituency.

This electoral system has forced Ouattara’s own Rally of Republicans party to find common ground with other parties in the RHDP coalition, particularly its main allies of the Ivory Coast Democratic Party.

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Alassane Ouattara
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