Ivory Coast citizens went to the polls on Saturday even as some opposition supporters tried to disrupt the vote, heeding a call from two rival candidates of President Alassane Ouattara for a boycott over his bid for a third term.
The streets of Abidjan, the West African country’s capital, were quiet and largely empty, in contrast to the sometimes violent run-up to the election. The vote is seen as a test of stability in Ivory Coast, which is the world’s top cocoa producer and has one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
Voting went smoothly with orderly lines at polling stations in a number of districts. In the city’s Blockhauss neighbourhood, around 20 young men blocked the entrance to a school, preventing would-be voters from entering until police dispersed the group.
“It’s civil disobedience,” said 31-year-old Bienvenue Beagre, one of the youths trying to obstruct the vote.
“He’s done two terms and needs to go away.”
The country has been in turmoil since President Ouattara announced in August that he would seek a third term.
Over the past few weeks, at least 30 people have been killed in pre-election violence, evoking memories of a 2010-2011 crisis that turned Abidjan into a battleground and left 3,000 dead.
Ouattara, 78, was supposed to step aside after his second term to make way for a younger generation, but his chosen successor’s sudden death forced a change in plan.
The opposition slammed the president’s decision to seek a third term, saying it’s against the constitution, which allows two terms. But Ouattara and his supporters argue that a 2016 constitutional tweak reset the clock on his term.
Four candidates are competing for the highest office. The incumbent’s key rivals, Konan Bedie, 86, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67, both say Ouattara’s third-term bid is unconstitutional and have called for an election boycott and civil disobedience.
Roughly 7.5 million Ivorians can cast their vote at more than 22,000 polling stations between 0700 and 1700 GMT. More than 35,000 police and security force officials have been mobilized to secure the election.
A candidate needs to garner at least 50% of votes to win in the first round. A run-off election will be held if no candidate wins a majority of votes Saturday.
When the outcome of the election will be unveiled is unclear. Under the constitution, the electoral commission has five days in which to announce the results.
The vote in French-speaking West African nation is also a crunch test in a region where Nigeria faces widespread social protests, Mali is emerging from a coup and jihadist violence is challenging the Sahel.
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