Tensions in Ivory Coast on civilian rule vote

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Voting began yesterday in the Ivory Coast on a constitutional referendum designed to pave the way to a return to civilian rule, following a military coup last December.

Voting began yesterday in the Ivory Coast on a constitutional referendum designed to pave the way to a return to civilian rule, following a military coup last December.

All the major parties in the cocoa-exporting country have urged voters to vote "yes" and the military junta has called for a massive turn-out. But the referendum has stirred ethnic tensions in what used to be one of the region's most stable nations.

Authorities yesterday extended the voting until noon today because of organisational problems. The Ivory Coast's army ruler, General Robert Guei, has approved a constitutional amendment which would prevent candidates from standing in presidential elections unless both their parents are Ivorian. Nearly one-third of the Ivory Coast's population is of foreign extraction.

There are suspicions that the amendment has been introduced to prevent a key opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, from standing in forthcoming presidential elections.

Mr Ouattara's opponents say he is a national of Burkina Faso, but he says he is Ivorian and can meet the parentage conditions of the amendment.

Some 4.8 million registered voters were eligible to take part in the referendum, but there were fears of a high abstention rate. Many registered voters were still waiting for their voting cards to arrive yesterday.

In a statement last week, General Guei accused his opponents of "manoeuvring in the shadows to orchestratean active boycott of the referendum". Of the proposed amendments, he said yesterday: "The people drew up this text. I responded to the will of the people."

A leading Islamic group has criticised the amendments as socially divisive, urging people to vote with their consciences.

The military junta declared a four-day state of emergency to ensure that the polling ran smoothly. If the referendum is approved, a presidential election will be held in September. General Guei is widely believed to be planning to stand.

Comments