Tensions Escalate as Ivorian Voters Head to Polls
Over six and a half million Ivorians showed up to the polls late last week to participate in the country’s municipal and regional elections. Voters took part in electing nearly 200 mayors and 31 regional councils; however, activity at the polls has largely been overshadowed by tensions that have recently erupted across the country.
Two of the Ivory Coast’s largest political parties, the Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR) and the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), faced off in this election. Both parties were participants in the Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP), a political alliance of four of the country’s largest political parties. However, the RDR and the PDCI have recently gone separate ways due to disagreements over the ruling coalition’s future.
According to political analyst Geoffroy Julien Kouao, “the political situation is worrying in the sense that the implosion of the RHDP gives rise to verbal slippages. And the antagonism between the allies of yesterday is so pronounced that there is cause for concern about the political future of the Cote d’Ivoire.”
These elections have seen significant violence and clashes between competing political parties despite the deployment of about 30,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers to monitor voting activity across the country.
During the vote last Saturday, a man was stabbed to death in a particularly intense bout of clashes between supporters of Samy Merhy, the independent mayor of Lakota town, and supporters of his challenger from the ruling RHDP coalition. Other clashes occurred elsewhere across the country, though none witnessed the same level of violence.
The results of the elections have yet to be announced in full, further escalating an already tense situation.
Georges Ezaley, a candidate with the PDCI, said: “The results were validated on Sunday morning by the Independent Electoral Commission and signed off by the representatives of all the candidates but by Sunday evening, they still hadn’t announced them.” Wary of the possible reasons for withholding such information, Ezaley concluded that “there is something amiss here.”
The results have not been released for the Plateau business district of Abidjan, the richest commune in the country and the site of repeated clashes throughout the election.
Late on Sunday night, a group of Ivorians gathered outside the police headquarters in Abidjan demanding a declaration of results. The police took action around 1AM to break up the crowd by firing tear gas, leaving many people wounded.
The municipal and regional elections come almost two years before the Ivory Coast holds its 2020 presidential election, anticipation of which has led to significant unrest in the country. Both the RDR and the PDCI viewed Saturday’s local elections as a test of their individual strength ahead of the 2020 election.
Mamadou Toure, a government and spokesperson for the RDR, said “two years from the presidential election, this will allow us… to see how each political camp measures up.”
Such forward-looking behavior helps to explain the intensity of the clashes between the two parties, as both are seeking to consolidate as much influence as they can before the real test in 2020. Only time will tell how the two parties will fare apart from one another.