By George E. Curry, NNPA Special Correspondent –
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although the most recent presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire was the most “painstakingly prepared” in African history, mistakes were made at every step that virtually guaranteed the process would end up in chaos, a former international human rights official concluded.
In an analysis of the election in which both candidates – incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his challenger, Alassane Ouattara – claimed victory, Pierre Sane, former secretary general of Amnesty International pointed to errors that left the outcome of the voting unresolved.
“The polling process had been an intricate consensus between all the parties involved, even if there had been slips at each and every stage,” said Sane, who was born in Dakar, Senegal and is now president of the Imagine Africa Institute in Paris. “From the open air meetings to the population census, from creation of the polling list to the issue of national identity cards, from the establishment, then the re-establishment of the Independent Election Commission to the distribution of polling cards, the whole process prepared by and implemented by the authorities, the opposition and the rebels under the watchful eye of the international community was supposed to lead to an indisputable result.”
He continued, “Beyond the Elections Act and the Constitution, a Code of Conduct had been prepared by the political parties in order to guarantee compliance with the rules by all those involved in the polling competition. The cherry on the cake was that the United Nations had been called upon to certify the whole process set up. Never seen before in Africa!”
In addition to the U.N., Sane pointed to an array of institutions directly involved in the election process, including the Gbagbo government, armed rebels, the country’s major political parties, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, France, and the European Union.
Despite unprecedented international involvement, however, Sane observed: “Once it is all done with, we have two winners. This means a failure and a dead end, which may drive the country to a civil war much more ravaging than the one it went through between 2002 and 20005. And, the only outcome for the winner, whichever side it is, will be to have to rule for a long time against the other half of the country.”
With such elaborate preparations, what went wrong?
According to Sane, the first mistake was the none-enforcement of the Ouagadougou Agreement that provided the framework for the election. Under Article 3 of the agreement, rebels who had staged a failed coup against Gbagbo were required to surrender their weapons and disband two months prior to the election. But, the rebels, who control the northern part of the country, never gave up their weapons.
“Why did the international community not insist that the rebels comply with the Ouagadougou political Agreement and its four Amendments, which they themselves signed and endorsed? Why did the United Nations Security Council not order the rebels to disarm, as stipulated in the Ouagadougou Agreement that the Council endorsed? Why did Blaise Compaore, the Facilitator and leading figure in the Ouagadougou process, not apply the required pressure to ensure compliance with this crucial provision?” Sane asked. “And finally, why did the rebels and their political leader, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, refuse to disarm despite having signed the Agreement?”
The second source of controversy was the composition and operation of the Independent Electoral Commission, whose decision has been championed by France and the U.S. Of the 31 members of the commission, Sane points out, 11 are from government bodies and 20 are from the rebel groups and their political supporters.
“It seems to be a unique situation in Africa that among the 20 representatives of the political parties and rebel groups in the Commission, 18 belong to the opposition and 2 to the party in office,” Sane said. “Even supposing that the constitutional bodies delegates (11) are close to the Government, it would still only add up to 13 against 18. One way or the other, the ‘independent’ Commission is in point of fact controlled by the opposition. Its chairman is a senior member of the opposition coalition, and a former PDCI minister in the Gbagbo cabinet.”
The third factor cited by Sane was the role of the Constitution Council, the equivalent of the Supreme Court in the United States.
“Just as it is everywhere else, Côte d’Ivoire Constitutional Council is sole judge of the constitutionality of the Laws,” Sane wrote. “It ‘controls the fairness of referendum operations and of the election of the people’s representatives’ [Article 32 of the Côte d’Ivoire constitution]. It rules on the eligibility of candidates to the presidential and legislative elections, on the disputes linked to the election of the President of the Republic and Members of Parliament. The Constitutional Council announces the final results of the presidential elections.’[Article 94 of the Constitution]
“It is under the provisions of this mandate that the Constitutional Council canceled the ballot in 7 districts (out of 8 challenged), on the grounds of 5 appeals introduced by candidate Laurent Gbagbo based on irregularities involving ‘the absence of his representatives and delegates in the polling stations; ballot-boxes stuffing; conveyance of records of proceedings by unauthorized individuals; voting obstruction; absence of polling booths; and rigging of valid vote numbers,’” the human rights advocate said. “Based on evidence provided to support the demands, the Constitutional Council canceled the ballots in the relevant districts, and re-adjusted the results, thus leading to confirm Laurent Gbagbo as the winner.”
Even though it was acting within its constitutional powers, Sane explained, it would have been better if the High Court had extended some of its deliberations.
“Since the decision of the Constitutional Council is final and not subject to appeal, and considering the unusual circumstance, why did the Council not take the time to make further inquiries on the demands submitted by candidate Laurent Gbagbo, and maybe even ask candidate Alassane Ouattara to introduce his own queries without challenging non-compliance with the deadlines? Similarly, why did it not order a new ballot in those districts disputed by requesting that the Government involve the armed forces and the United Nations troops to guarantee security in the polling stations of these 7 districts? Or just cancel the ballot, and hold it again after 45 days as outlined in the decree?”
Finally, the actions of the United Nations’ special representative were called into question. Choi Young-Jin, the special representative to U.N. General Secretary, certified the outcome of the election based on the findings of the Independent Electoral Commission and did not wait for the determination of country’s High Court. Moreover, he made that announcement at the Golf Hotel, the headquarters of Ouattara.
“Why did the United Nations Secretary General Special Representative not work on the results proclaimed by the Constitutional Council, and decide to certify them or not as was the case for the first ballot?” Sane asked. “In the event of enduring disagreement, why would he have not thoroughly checked the cancellation criteria brought forward by the Constitutional Council, and assessed their validity, and even required, under those exceptional circumstances, that Alassane Ouattara submit ‘democratic divergences.’ Then transmit a report to the Security Council?”
The former human rights executive concluded, “No election is ever perfect, whether in Africa or elsewhere. And, nobody can today pretend unequivocally that either won the presidential election…This is why a judicial body is the one to which the Law confers last resort authority to determine and decide the final outcome of the ballot.”
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