ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s opposition will join the new government and call off violent protests that have rocked the nation since President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the electoral commission this month, an opposition spokesman said on Friday.
The west African country, the world’s top producer of cocoa, announced the formation of a new electoral commission after naming a replacement government. These are key steps towards holding long-delayed elections and ending the demonstrations in which at least seven people have died.
“We are satisfied with this first stage of the reinstallation of the independent electoral commission, which will now go back to work,” spokesman for the opposition groups Alphonse Djedje Mady said.
“The RHDP and PIT (parties) have therefore decided to make their entry into the government,” he told a news conference. “There remain some small questions to sort out but ... the principle of our entering the government is (agreed).”
The main opposition coalition had also vowed to continue protests against Gbagbo until he reinstated the commission and the government. They were now called off, Mady said.
“RHDP and PIT call on their sympathisers and activists to stay mobilised but to end all demonstrations. We have to stay vigilant, but protests have to be suspended,” he said.
Gbagbo disbanded the government and electoral commission on February 12 after accusing former commission chief Robert Mambe, also a PDCI member, of illegally adding names to the voter list to boost the opposition. Mambe has denied the charge.
That decision delayed elections that were already years overdue from March, provoking a public outcry that led to the violent street protests.
The new electoral commission said earlier on Friday that its president would be Youssouf Bakayoko, an opposition PDCI party member. Commission members were chosen in a deal struck by Ivory Coast’s political parties, and the commission then elected Bakayoko to lead it.
“The result will be to organise elections that are just, transparent and have results acceptable to everyone,” Bakayoko, a former foreign minister, said in a brief statement after his election in the early hours of Friday.
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a former rebel during Ivory Coast’s 2002-03 civil war, announced a new government on Tuesday, with positions for both opposition parties, after a compromise mediated by Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
Getting the electoral commission back on track is regarded as far more important than the government, which has been transitional since its mandate expired in 2005.
Elections are seen as the only way of restoring legitimacy to the government and ending the crisis in Ivory Coast, which has persisted since the war split it in two.
Mady said he thought elections would be possible by May 8 if the electoral commission gets to work immediately. It still has to finish the job of drawing up a final voter list and dealing with all the contested names on the provisional list.
Public anger is raging after years of delays. The military opened fire on protesters in the past few days, killing at least seven. Cocoa output, though, has been largely unaffected.
Some 6 million voters registered for the poll, but around a million were contested on grounds of nationality, a divisive issue that started the civil war in the first place.
Frequent setbacks to the country’s peace process have left Ivorians cynical about politics and their leaders.
“If it means peace can come back to our country then I guess that’s good,” said fruit seller Odette Brou, 30, when told of the new commission. “We’re really tired of all this.”