Both sides claim victory as Ivory Coast counts votes

Abidjan, March 8 (AFP/APP): Ivory Coast’s ruling party and the main opposition both claimed victory in the West African nation’s legislative elections, with the official results still to be announced.

Saturday’s polls come as a key test of stability following violence before and after October’s presidential vote, which claimed 87 lives in the former French colony.

Adama Bictogo, number two in the ruling RHDP party, said early trends from local election commissions “clearly show that our party will emerge victorious with a comfortable majority”.

“We have achieved our goal of securing around 60 percent of the seats,” he declared. But the centre-right Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI) opposition party has also claimed to have won the vote, alleging that the preliminary results were riddled with irregularities.

Top opposition party official Niamkey Koffi told a news conference in the economic capital Abidjan that the PDCI believed it had won “around 128 seats with our allies” in the 255-seat National Assembly. “Our concern is that the results may be manipulated,” said Koffi, warning the government against “any attempt to falsify” them.

The conflicting victory claims came after the independent electoral commission announced early provisional results, which Koffi said were “strewn with fraud, tampering and manipulation”. Koffi alleged attempts to reverse results in several large cities including the political capital Yamassoukrou, the coastal resort of Grand-Bassam, and key districts of Abidjan.

Turnout had been a mere 20 percent, he added, citing “fear of violence”.

Bictogo, for his part, denied the opposition’s allegations of fraud. “This is the reasoning of losers,” he said. The PDCI, in an unprecedented move, had forged an election alliance with the centre-left coalition Together for Democracy and Solidarity (EDS), whose driving force is the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of former president Laurent Gbagbo.

Their declared aim is to prevent President Alassane Ouattara and his RHDP party from “consolidating absolute power” in the world’s top cocoa grower, formerly a haven of peace and prosperity in troubled West Africa.

Ouattara, 79, won a controversial third term with more than 94 percent of the vote in the presidential polls, which were boycotted by the opposition. In the last legislative vote in December 2016, the RHDP and PDCI were allied, winning an absolute majority with 167 seats on turnout of 34 percent. Last year’s election crisis shattered that deal.

The FPI, for its part, lifted a decade-old boycott of electoral politics in order to take part in Saturday’s vote, in which more than 1,500 candidates were vying for the votes of roughly seven million people.

Abidjan Mayor Sylvestre Emmou, an opposition candidate, said that three people had been stabbed and injured in the city on an otherwise calm day of voting. Election observers reported no other major incidents. Ouattara forced Gbagbo out of office in 2011 after a post-election civil war that claimed some 3,000 lives and left the country deeply split. A

fter his ouster, Gbagbo, now 75, was flown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face war crimes charges arising from that conflict. He was acquitted in January 2019 and is now living in Brussels pending the outcome of an appeal.

More recently, Ouattara has reached out to his old foe, and in a bid for “national reconciliation”, issued Gbagbo with two passports, one of them a diplomatic pass. Gbagbo’s supporters are impatient for his return, which the ex-president recently said would be “soon”.

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