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8 July 2008: The Politics of Post-Conflict Elections in Côte d’Ivoire

An often-heralded rationale for post-conflict elections is grounded in the argument that by demilitarising politics these elections will end conflict and usher in democracy. However, as post-conflict elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo and Liberia seems to suggest, these elections are nothing but a reflection of the military asymmetric of a conflict. Thus the maxim: elections cannot settle a military conflict that negotiations or victory have failed to end. One wonders therefore if these elections are merely designed to legitimise a victor or a power-sharing agreement and in the process to institutionalise wartime institutions, alliances and political rationalities? Do these elections address the roots causes of conflict, or do they merely serve as an exit strategy for the international community to disengage from a crisis situation? What happens when elections produce results not favoured by the international community?

As Côte d’Ivoire prepares to go to the polls on November 30th to elect a new president and in the process end a six-year bruising conflict, it is important to look at these questions and interrogate the conditions prior to the elections. These are critical in determining how the country and the international community manage the precarious balance between post-conflict elections as a conflict resolution mechanism and as a vehicle for democracy. I do not contend that post-conflict elections cannot perform both.

However, looking at attempts at managing and influencing the transitional process, there is little doubt that the elections, come November, will be more of a conflict resolution process that legitimises and entrenches the present Gbagbo-Soro partnership, rather than being a robust attempt at democratisation. The question then is why are Ivorian politicians interested in the elections?

The forthcoming presidential elections will definitely determine who has the political initiative in the country. It should be noted that the roots of the Ivorian crisis could be found in the crisis of legitimacy. For the time being, the legitimacy of the regime hinges on the fact that the country is in a state of war. Thus, there is urgency within the presidential camp that the president needs a renewed mandate from the people. President Laurent Gbagbo’s mandate ended in 2005, but it has been extended once by the UN Security Council, following recommendations from the African Union Peace and Security Council. Thus President Gbagbo needs a popular mandate to bolster his legitimacy as he struggles to strengthen his hold on power.

There is no doubt the Ouagadougou Accord and its subsequent supplementary accords were motivated by the desire of President Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaumme Soro to take control of a peace process that was increasingly being hijacked by the international community and in the process ensure their political survival. Thus it is plausible to contend that, if the partnership is to last, it is in need of some sort of legitimacy engendered by popular vote to deflate the argument that it was a partnership designed to share the spoils of war.

As for the political opposition, a credible election will give them an opportunity not only to reassert themselves, considering they have been overshadowed by the rebels, but also a chance to attempt to cease power or at least influence it. This chance is real considering the opposition seems to count on the fact that if President Gbagbo fails to secure a knockout blow in the first round, their combined ticket might pose a credible challenge. Moreover, the political opposition might be contesting the presidential elections with an eye on the parliamentary elections. Considering the ethnic demographics in the country, it is very likely that the political opposition might do well in the legislative elections and in the process, taking the political battle to the legislature. It is against this backdrop that the various Ivorian political elites are jostling for control and influence of the electoral process.

Beyond the normative imperative to have elections in Côte d‘Ivoire, the elections will provide a mobilising ground for the international community to rally around an eventual winner and in the process provide the much needed resources for post-conflict reconstruction and development. Moreover, developmental aid from international financial institutions is contingent on some form of political stability in the country. Also, support for the electoral process might provide a window of opportunity for countries like France that have seen their influence in the country wane over time to re-engage and sustain their interest.

This analysis might be accused of naivety considering the urgency of balancing stability against peace. However, its purpose is to refocus the attention of the international community to support the faltering Ivorian peace process. For the time being, the process is in dire need of financial support to operationalise the Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintergration process. It is thus important that in addressing the environmental conditions surrounding the elections, the international community must come to the aid of Côte d’Ivoire and support its DDR process.

Chrysantus Ayangafac, Senior Researcher, Direct Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Addis Ababa

Source: http://www.issafrica.org/index.php?link_id=14&slink_id=6256&link_type=12&slink_type=12&tmpl_id=3

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July 9, 2008 - Posted by | Election Issues | , , , , , , , , , ,

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