ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s two main opposition leaders firmed up an alliance on Sunday that could enable former IMF official Alassane Ouattara to unseat President Laurent Gbagbo in the second round of the country’s post-war election.
The long-delayed poll in the world’s top cocoa grower is meant to reunite and spur investment in the once prosperous West African nation after war in 2002-3 split it in two and left the north in the hands of rebels.
A peaceful first round on October 31 resulted in Gbagbo leading with 38 percent, but falling short of an outright win so he will face Ouattara, who scored 32 percent.
Attention is now turning to the potential role as king-maker that Henri Konan Bedie, a former president who came third with 25 percent of the vote, can assume in a November 21 second round.
“(We) call on militants, supporters and all voters to come together around (Ouattara’s) candidacy,” Bedie said in a statement on Sunday after a meeting of the RHDP alliance, which brings together four parties loyal to Bedie, Ouattara and two other minor candidates.
The four parties had signed a pre-election pact that the losers would support whoever went through to a second round against Gbagbo, but Sunday’s statement was the first confirmation the deal was still in place for the November 21 poll.
Although Ouattara and Bedie’s combined vote in the first round was well over 50 percent it is not clear how many of Bedie’s core voters, drawn largely from the populous central and southern Baoule tribe, will back a northerner — and one who has been accused of having links to the rebellion.
Ouattara denies the charges but suspicions remain.
Cultural rifts between the mercantile, largely Muslim northern peoples, who largely backed Ouattara, and the farming, more Christian south, where Gbagbo fared well, run deep.
The rebellion was partly driven by the north’s feeling of neglect. It has entrenched a deep north-south mutual mistrust.
A TENSE RUN-OFF?
Despite some fears that the poll would be chaotic and could lead to street violence, voting last weekend was orderly and turnout was over 80 percent, underscoring the desire of Ivorians to draw a line under years of stalemate since the war.
Bedie, followed by his allies in the RHDP alliance, sought to contest the results of the poll but the country’s constitutional council threw out the challenge on Saturday.
Several hundred of Bedie’s supporters blocked a handful of streets in the main city of Abidjan last week. Disruption was minimal but tensions are likely to escalate ahead of a second round, when there will be much more at stake.
It is vital that the second round delivers and uncontested winner who can lead the country out of its quagmire and attract foreign investment back to the region’s former star economy.
Badly needed investments in infrastructure have been largely on hold while the crisis has diverted attention and resources to security. Corruption has flourished.
Business leaders hope a new government will have no excuse to neglect the country and leave infrastructure to rot.
Reforms to a cocoa sector that supplies 40 percent of the world market but is in decline owing to neglect are on hold until after the election — and those reforms are essential for $3 billion in IMF and World Bank debt relief expected next year.