‘Bribes bonanza’ as Ivory Coast goes to polls

Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 24 November 1990

OPPOSITION attempts to break a 30-year hold on power and prove that the public wants political pluralism in the Ivory Coast will be put to the test tomorrow in the country’s first multi-party national assembly election.

A month ago the President, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, clung on to power in the country’s first multi-party presidential contest.

Mr Houphouët-Boigny, who has ruled the country since independence from France in 1960, was re-elected amid accusations of ballot-rigging massive fraud.

The opposition Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) recognised that it had lost, though not by the 74 per cent margin claimed by the government. The FPl’s own figures showed it had lost by about 10 per cent, despite its claim during the campaign that it had the support of up to 70 per cent of the electorate.

Even without the fraud and lack of media access for the FPI, it is unlikely that the ruling Democratic Party (PDCI) would have been toppled. Massive bribes are rumoured to have changed hands in the run-up to tomorrow’s national assembly elections, making a similar result possible. Tomorrow’s election will be open to all the 20 opposition parties. But the outcome is unlikely to reflect opposition claims that the country is demanding widespread change.

The difficulty will be to distinguish the signs which reflect genuine public opinion from those which are the result of an election campaign. The massive disparities in wealth between the immensely rich PDCI and the opposition ensure the campaign is open to abuse as, many felt, was the presidential election in October.

The FPI leader, Laurent Gbagbo, said yesterday: “The presidential election provided irrefutable proof that the forces of progress and change have become uncontainable in our country.”

The fact that, even by his own count, Mr Gbagbo lost the election proves the country’s fledgling democracy still has enormous hurdles to overcome before there is widespread acceptance of the democratic process as the vehicle for improvement.

This view has been largely accepted only among the middle class and has rarely overcome the conservatism and tribal loyalties to which many still cling.

The growing doubt now is whether democracy will ever really be given a chance to prove itself. Results from the presidential election showed that tribal affiliation, outside the urban areas, was the main influence on voting.

The 20 opposition parties are encouraging tactical voting against the government since individual parties cannot contest every constituency.

Though they have secured support on political grounds for their basic views on the economic crisis, even they are relying on voters in their leaders’ home villages to vote on the basis of traditional affiliation and alliances which have more to do with power than manifestos.



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