ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo will face a run-off election this month against his rival, Alassane Ouattara, according to first-round results released on Thursday that gave Gbagbo a narrow lead.
Gbagbo won 38.3 percent of the 4.4 million votes cast in Sunday’s presidential election, compared with 32 percent for Ouattara, a former prime minister and senior IMF official, the West African country’s election commission said.
The long-delayed poll in the world’s top cocoa grower is meant to reunite the once prosperous nation after a 2002-3 war split it in two and left the north in the hands of rebels.
But many Ivorians fear that a close race in the run-off — scheduled for November 28 — could be disputed, leading to violent protests in a country with a history of trouble in election.
The main city of Abidjan was calm on Thursday with traffic returning to normal and businesses that had shut down as a precaution reopening. Ivorians gathered around newspaper stands to read the headlines.
“This is a good start,” said student Franck Azokou.
“I hope the losing candidates ... do not challenge the results as they have come from the ballot boxes, they should accept them so that the country can move on,” he added.
Cocoa exporters who had temporarily stopped operations this week also restarted on Thursday, albeit in slow trade. Cocoa futures edged up $12 to $1,839 per tonne.
Third-placed Henri Konan Bedie, who ended up with 25.2 percent, has alleged rigging and called for a recount.
The United Nations’ top representative to Ivory Coast, Y.J. Choi, said he was not worried by the complaint.
“We would be worried if it (Bedie’s party) resorts to undemocratic methods. But so far we are reassured that they are not going down that path,” he told reporters.
Ivory Coast’s constitutional court has until November 10 to validate the first round results.
It will be hard for Bedie to mount a concerted challenge given that the U.N. mission and election observers have largely praised the poll. A few hundred of Bedie’s supporters blocked roads outside his PDCI party headquarters with rocks and furniture, warning that protests would continue until a recount took place.
Cocoa dealers said the smooth election process so far was good news for the world market, around 40 percent of whose supplies come from Ivory Coast, as it would help guarantee supplies. Several exporters who had suspended work earlier this week said they had now resumed operations.
“We have restarted work but ... The hold-up due to the results has definitely cost us time,” said an exporter.
As predicted, Ouattara fared better in the north, where he is from and where soldiers who felt neglected by successive southern-dominated governments rose up against Gbagbo in 2002.
Bedie scored well in central regions where there are many of his fellow Baoule voters. Gbagbo’s support base was focused on the south and the west of the country.
Despite praising the poll, the Eurpean Union commplained that its teams were sometimes blocked from monitoring counting.
There were concerns about the slow release of results. “This is something we can improve together,” the U.N.’s Choi said.
A peaceful and accepted poll may entice investors back to what was once a rare economic success story in an unstable region. Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond traded just below 10 percent early on Thursday.
All candidates have come under concerted pressure from foreign powers, including the 9,500-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission, and local media to accept the results.
“Ivorians have showed that Ivory Coast is a great nation. It is now up to the leaders to show they deserve to lead it,” Fraternite Matin, a daily newspaper, said in an editorial.