Uncertain Election Results in Côte d'Ivoire Leave the Country on Edge

With both sides claiming victory in last month's presidential elections, life is tense for those living in this once prosperous West African nation. Rumors of civil war run rampant.

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ABIDJAN, CÔTE D'IVOIRE -- The city has returned to an almost tense normal again, less than two weeks after elections that resulted in two presidents being sworn into office by separate entities here in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Alassane Ouattara, the internationally backed president, is holed up in the safety of the U.N.-protected Golf Hotel and surrounded by his new, essentially exiled government within Abidjan that is led by newly selected Vice President Guillaume Soro. They are desperately trying to etch a place for themselves in the capital, so far without much success.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo -- sworn in with tepid support from Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Russia, Lebanon, Angola and few other international interests -- essentially has the endorsement of the Ivorian national army, the police factions, much of the public works and nearly half the population. From outside the country, it appears as if Ouattara has clearly won the elections. From inside, it's not as obvious, though it is apparent that Gbagbo is in charge, since Ouattara's name is no longer even found in any local media. Many believe that Gbagbo is here to stay.

Foreign television and radio media were and are said to be "banned" within the country, although several stations, such as TV5, managed to unscramble their signal a mere day after the imposition. Internet news, barring the site of ONUCI (the U.N. mission in Côte d'Ivoire), seems completely unaffected, and although large numbers of the population are offline or without satellite access, the international news is still trickling in, able to reach the vast majority, despite what is being portrayed in the outside media.

The night curfew remains, although scaled back to run only from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to allow people to return to work without too much difficulty, and the borders have reopened after being closed nearly a week. Approximately 2,000 people have fled, fearing violence, since the borders have opened, and they are now mostly being sheltered with host families in neighboring Liberia.

Approximately 30 people have lost their lives so far, and rumors of return to civil war are abundant, prompting the U.N. and several embassies to dwindle down their staffs to only the essential employees and to issue warnings to many foreign nationals to evacuate at their first chance or be stranded without their embassy's assistance.

The situation is extremely complicated. Yet the truth is being obscured by a number of factors: the clear taking of sides in both the international and local media, Gbagbo's stubborn insistence on ignoring all unfriendly outside voices, the U.N.'s claims at impartiality and the international community's calling of a winner without investigation.

The first round of elections on Oct. 31 went fairly smoothly, with LMP-party candidate Gbagbo winning with 38 percent, RDR candidate Ouattara attaining 32 percent and PDCI candidate Henri Bedie winning 25 percent of the vote. The aliance of former rivals PDCI and RDR was put into action for the second round through their common party, RHDP, with Ouattara promising to elect a PDCI prime minister should he win. In return, Bedie gave his full public support to Ouattara, ensuring the vote of many, mostly Baoulé people, who otherwise would likely have voted for Gbagbo.

Ouattara, however, has instead severely angered many PDCI supporters by selecting Forces Nouvelles leader Guillaume Soro to the position of prime minister and minister of defense. Rumors abound in local media with stories of Bedie storming out of the protection of the Golf Hotel in anger. Others insist that his hasty departure has nothing to do with the selection and that he has, in fact, actually given his blessing to the new government, which he sees as only a temporary and tactical move to secure the country.

On Nov. 28, the second round of elections was marred by observations of serious election crimes, including the destruction of election materials, voter intimidation and ballot-box theft. The day before the election, protesters clashed with police; three people were shot dead, and seven were injured. Many people simply stayed home, and the long lines seen in the first round at each polling station were severely diminished.

Local and international media originally announced that, because of intimidation from both sides in different areas, voter turnout was down from the high 84 percent turnout of the first round to around only 70 percent. Days later, this reported number changed in the international media and CEI's (the electoral commission) results.