Twenty years after the multipartyism, Côte d’Ivoire held its first democratic elections on October 31, 2010. Unfortunately the pre-requisite conditions to hold successfully a post-conflict election were underestimated.
The current statu quo and political unrest due to the dispute over the presidential chair reveal the failure of the war termination strategies designed by the government and the United Nations Operations in Côte d’Ivoire.
This paper first of all highlights the context of the ivoirian democracy process and secondly gives the reasons of the failure to consolidate democracy and peace.
Ivory Coast held its first multiparty elections in 1990 after 30 years of monopartyism. The results of these elections were disputed because of the arbitrary decisions of the former government related to the exclusion of some candidates and the manipulation of the electoral polls to assure an overwhelming victory of the incumbent president Houphouet Boigny.
In addition, the elections scheduled in 1995 lacked credibility because, the significant opposition leaders refused to compete regarding the Bedie regime refusal to set up an independent electoral commission.
Indeed, the opposition leaders stated that an electoral administration under the rule of the government is not credible in sense it cannot guarantee free and fair elections.
The opponents feared the manipulation of the poll results. The refusal of the Bedié’s regime to establish an independent electoral administration led to what is called the active boycott undertaken by Gbagbo (FPI) and Ouattara (RDR). Since then, the struggle of influence and the competition for power created evermore an environment of violence and dispute.
That unwholesome situation led to the 1999 military coup. The elections organized by the military junta in October 2000 devised again the Ivorian political leaders. Only two main candidates competed: Guéi chief of the junta and Gbagbo (FPI) the other significant leaders Ouattara (RDR) and Bedié (PDCI) were excluded from the competition.
The violent conflict that broke out only 2 years after Gbagbo’s legislature can be analyzed as the consequence of the division and lack of consensus among the ivoiran political leaders. In addition, the ivoriness (ivoirité) polity undertaken by the Bedié’s regime contributed to the fragmentation of the Ivorian social cohesion.
Due the deadly and bloody armed conflict of September 19, 2002 the country lost some important pillars of support such as democracy and a strong and homogenous government.
After 8 years of negotiation marked by peace accords, Ivory Coast political leaders agreed to compete for power through democratic mechanism. Hence, the announcement of the first round of the presidential elections on October 31, 2010 remained a key illustration.
But a post conflict election is always complex and sensitive because it can spark the sociopolitical environment. Since 1990s the country has been suffering from permanent violence and societal turmoil. Thanks to the OPA the Ivoirian political leaders agreed upon democratic principles: dialogue, compromise and elections.
The political strategy based on discussion and the dynamic compromise is prominent for democratization and sustainable peace building. For the very first time the state had its democratic and open electoral competition with all the Ivoirian significant political leaders. But some political scientists explain the current situation as the result of hurried and ill-timed elections.
Hurried and ill-timed elections
Regarding to the lasting 8 years of the crisis, it seemed senseless to talk about ill-timed elections, in sense that the government missed to organize the electoral polls in 2005.
However, according to some political scientists organizing elections in a fragile and a post conflict state should not be analyzed in terms of lasting time, but in terms of prerequisite conditions to achieve sustainable peace building. These (prerequisite) conditions are those minimizing risks and guaranteeing peaceful democratization for premature elections (jumping steps) can trigger violence.
The elections held hurriedly on October 31, 2010 polarized the competing groups and violence occurred. Regarding the atmosphere of insecurity it was a risk to organize election on October 31. On June 29 2007 the former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro escaped an assassination in Bouaké. The attacks and revolt were permanent both in government and rebellion side; it was a warning that needs to be taken into account.
The ill-timed elections in Angola, Bosnia and Rwanda contributed to the collapse of the fragile peace and heightened internal divisions. These historical examples were a relevant teaching for Ivory Coast. Unfortunately the UN and the ivoirian government did not understand.
The OPA which allowed free circulation in country and bridged the north and the south symbol of reunification did not significantly restore security and peace. The OPA is an interesting agreement because of its successful impact on the political and social environment. But an election on that ground was actually a risk.
Failure of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration
The peace process spoilers remained armed during the elections. The government and the UN carried out the elections underestimating security environment. A political scientist warns: ‘’where it is not possible to assure workable level of security there can’t be no effective democratization process’’ (Roland rich). The security environment is important to hold free and fair elections.
In the Ivorian case insecurity is permanent because of the circulation small arms and the ineffective disarmament. The rebels supporting the Candidate Allassane Ouatara compromised the sincerity of the polls in the northern precincts under their control. Many Gbagbo representatives suffered from intimidation, physical violence and some of them lost their life there. The rebels also manipulated polls results in their zones giving unthinkable record to their leader Ouattara.
In some northern precincts the number of voters was superior to registered people. The failure of the disarmament explains actually the unfair elections in the north. We learn that when rebel refuse disarmament it is a threat for democracy and peace. The post conflict election in Angola in 1992 is an important case of study.
Indeed a year after the Bicesse peace accord the government undertook electoral process. MPLA and UNITA agreed on competition through ballot for power, neglecting the security environment. The UN failed to demobilize and disarm the rebellion faction UNITA consequently when the rebel leader lost the elections he accused the Dos Santos government of electoral fraud.
Therefore Savimbi resumed a new deadly and violent war. With that in mind, Margaret Antsee the special envoy of the UN in Angola declared ’’Any lasting solution of long-standing civil war depends on the satisfactory resolution of military element.1’’
The Ivoirian election scheduled on October 31, 2010 was therefore problematic because the disarmament remained a dream. Some people believed that elections could be conducted without disarmament because the political parties thanks to the OPA could campaign everywhere in the country.
Actually the problem is not the possibility of campaigning but voting. With experience we realize that ‘’violence often times marks both the registration and the vote, and conflict resurfaces either elections or after’’2.
It simply means that the electoral campaign can freely be undertaken but it does not guarantee security and safety. The fragility of post conflict situation called for risks minimizing. The Ivoirian state in transition should obviously seek to create the pre-requisites for democracy, including full demilitarization’’3.
In Mozambique for instance, the outcome of the peace accord was that both RENAMO (rebellion movement) and FRELIMO provided 15.000 soldiers each to form the national army. The important thing is that RENAMO accepted full disarmament prior to the elections and they integration to the army.
By contrast, here in Côte d’Ivoire rebels refused disarmament. They talked about the ‘’schema opérationel simplifié’’. It is a method consisting in integration to the Defense Security Forces without disarmament. This is how the ivoirian rebels escaped disarmament prior to elections.
Weakness of the Independent Electoral Commission
The Ivoirian electoral body is called the independent electoral commission but actually the independence is questionable in the sense the political parties and rebels totally control the commission. So the electoral commission is not independent for it depends on the political parties. This commission lacked confidence because the players did not trust one another. That situation of permanent suspicion undermined the electoral management.
The credibility of that electoral administration was not guaranteed for the success of the electoral process. Mr Yousouf Bakayoko president of the independent electoral commission the poorly managed the elections.
He undemocratically proclaimed the results without the assistance of his colleagues and undermined the ivoirian constitutional rules by giving partial results one (1) day after the deadline. According to the ivoirian constitution the president of the independent electoral commission has three (3) days to deliver the partial results of the presidential elections.
The deep malaise in that independent electoral commission led its chairman Youssouf Bakayoko to delivere the electoral poll results in the headquarter of the president Gbagbo’s oppponent Allasane Ouattara.
As consequence of the electoral frauds and gross violation of human rights the constitutional council annulled the results in five precincts in the north and proclaimed H.E Gbagbo winner of the election with 51 percent.
At that stage of our analysis it is good to understand that post conflict elections are not an ordinary elections for they could pave the way to democratization and peace or escalate the conflict. The Ivorian government and the UNOCI underestimated some important issues during the lectoral process. The security environment, disarmament and the weakness of the electoral commission stand as the key reasons of the electoral process failure.
1. Michael E. SADC post conflict Elections ‘’conflict and elections brief’’
2. UNDP Governance in postconflict situations: Electoral systems and processes, chapter III P.29
3. Michael E. SADC post conflict Elections’’ conflict and elections brief’’