Cote d’Ivoire’s Peaceful Parliamentary Elections
Cote d'Ivoire held the first legislative elections in more than a decade on Sunday, December 11. These elections will usher in the first democratically elected parliament since 2005, when the mandate of the one elected in 2000 expired. All eyes were on the West African nation as the memory of the violence that engulfed the country after the 2010 presidential elections lingered in the minds of many.
On the evening of the election, Christian Hennemeyer, electoral consultant, answers some questions from Abidjan, where he has been working for IFES for almost two months.
Question: What was Election Day like?
Answer: Election Day was peaceful. I spoke to people from the Electoral Commission, United Nations, Carter Center and others, and I am not aware of any serious incidents of violence or intimidation. That may change as election results are posted outside the polling stations tonight or as the results are transferred to central locations, but so far, all has been calm.
Q: There were reports of violence before the election. To what do you attribute the calm on Election Day?
A: The truth is that Cote d'Ivoire has seen a lot of calm over the past 8 months. In the run-up to this election there was a violent incident in one location, but the violence has not escalated to anything alarming. As to why people have remained calm on Election Day, I think most are tired of the violence, they want to get these elections behind them, and the security has been very tight.
Q: What was the turnout for this election?
A: Official results will not be out for several days, but from what I observed and what I have heard, I would say it is probably slightly over 20%. That is quite low even for a parliamentary election. Perhaps some chose to err on the side of caution and not risk being caught up in possible violence, perhaps people concluded that there isn't as much at stake in this election, and perhaps the calls by the former ruling party to boycott the election affected the turnout.
Q: What was the mood like at the polling stations you visited?
A: I personally went to ten different polling stations in the Abidjan area and I would describe the mood as serious. The voters were orderly. They waited in line patiently. I would say, overall, they were responsible and serious.
Q: You have been in Cote d'Ivoire for seven weeks and you have spent most of your career in Africa. What do these elections say to you?
A: Ivoirians still have a long way to go before they are fully reconciled as a nation. They have been working hard to revive their economic sector and attract foreign investment, but they have yet to fully focus on what happened over the past ten years, punish those who need to be punished, and understand what went wrong. Some small steps have begun, such as the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, but much more needs to happen. Tough questions of national identity, land tenure, and justice have to be openly debated. Yet, these elections are definitely a step in the right direction. After all, Cote d'Ivoire now has an elected parliament. It would have been better if turnout had been higher and the former ruling party had not boycotted the election, but the fact remains that a democratically elected legislature will soon be seated.
To view a gallery of photos taken by Hennemeyer on Election Day, click here.