ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara easily won re-election in the first vote since a disputed poll five years ago sparked violence that killed thousands in the West African economic powerhouse, the electoral commission announced early Wednesday.
Ouattara received nearly 84 percent of Sunday’s vote, trouncing the opposition, according to results read out by Youssouf Bakayoko, the head of the commission. Ouattara needed to get more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
The results will now be sent to the constitutional court to be validated, Bakayoko said.
Ouattara was the heavy favorite long before the campaign began. As the country awaited official tallies Tuesday, he said the vote had allowed Ivory Coast to “turn the page on the crisis our country went through” after the election five years ago.
In that contest, Ouattara defeated ex-president Laurent Gbagbo in a runoff but Gbagbo refused to step down, leading to violence that killed more than 3,000 people and dragged on until Gbagbo’s arrest in April 2011. Gbagbo is set to go on trial next month for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
This time around, Ouattara faced a divided opposition that failed to gain traction. He campaigned on the impressive economic rebound he has overseen since taking office in May 2011, though critics say ordinary Ivorians have not benefited much from the growth and that post-conflict reconciliation has been minimal.
The second-place finisher with 9 percent was Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the candidate of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front political party. A large faction of the party had withheld its support for N’Guessan, calling him a traitor to Gbagbo and predicting the vote would be rigged.
Voting on Sunday was peaceful and largely smooth, though many polling stations opened late as workers waited on materials to arrive, according to an Ivorian-led civil society mission that deployed more than 2,000 observers.
The mission said Monday that no major incidents compromised the process, and the U.S. Embassy said in a statement that the vote appeared to have been “peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive.”
The turnout of more than 54 percent was below the roughly 80 percent recorded in the first round in 2010, though that election was long-delayed and closely contested.
The drop likely reflected the changed political landscape as well as residual fears of elections because of what happened last time, said Mariam Dao Gabala, president of the Coalition of Female Leaders of Ivory Coast and a spokeswoman for the civil society observer mission.
“Coming out of a post-election crisis, it is expected that the turnout would be weak,” Gabala said. “If we come out of this vote without incidents, then the turnout in 2020 will be higher.”
During the campaign, Ouattara vowed to focus on problems such as youth unemployment while promoting justice and reconciliation.
It will be especially important for Ouattara to counter perceptions of one-sided justice while addressing other sources of tension such as land disputes, said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“Although presidential elections mark another step towards recovery from the 2010-2011 crisis, many of the human rights challenges that contributed to past political violence remain unresolved,” Wormington said.
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