I.Coast counts votes after local polls seen as test for presidential raceSat, 02 Sep 2023 19:08:49 GMT

Counting has begun after Ivory Coast voted Saturday in local and regional elections set to gauge support for the ruling party and the opposition two years ahead of a presidential poll.The three leading political groups were vying for seats in 201 districts and 31 regions in the West African nation, a regional economic power and leading cocoa exporter.The results “will allow you to see their strengths and weaknesses before the presidential battle in 2025,” political analyst Geoffroy Kouao told AFP.Two big opposition parties teamed up in many areas to take on the governing RHDP party, which won control of 18 of the 31 regions five years ago.The elections were the first since former president Laurent Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast in June 2021 after being acquitted by the International Criminal Court on human rights charges linked to post-electoral violence in 2011.Gbagbo was not able to vote on Saturday however, after being struck from the electoral roll due to a conviction in Ivory Coast linked to the 2011 crisis.The former president considers his removal “a political manoeuvre” but that did not stop his party taking part.- ‘Peaceful’ -Voting began at 8 am (0800 GMT) and officially ended at 5 pm, but continued in several polling stations so voters affected by delays could cast their ballots.Long queues formed at polling stations in the economic hub Abidjan’s wealthy Plateau business district, where voting got underway several hours late. A few altercations were reported by the Aube Nouvelle platform, which was tracking possible flashpoints, but voting was generally calm across the country. Results are expected in dribs and drabs over the next few days, before the Independent Electoral Commission publishes the final tally at some point next week.After casting his vote in Abidjan’s Cocody suburb on Saturday, President Alassane Ouattara welcomed a “peaceful” campaign.It came three years after a crisis erupted when Ouattara won a third presidential mandate in contested elections that led to 85 deaths.”It’s important to vote in municipal polls for communal development,” said voter Koroma Mori after casting his ballot in Yopougon, a district of Abidjan. “Mayors must look after the young, schools, women toiling away in markets and our children who do not have work,” said fellow resident Toua Balelou, 64.- Early test -The elections — in which some eight million people were eligible to vote — mark an early test for Gbagbo’s African People’s Party – Ivory Coast (PPA-CI), a left-wing pan-African group, formed less than two years ago.Political analyst Arthur Banga said the vote would be an indicator of the ability of its base to mobilise support.”If the results are weak, it risks affecting the troops’ morale,” he said.The elections could also reveal potential runners in the next presidential ballot.President Ouattara, 81, has not said whether he intends to contest a fourth term.”Those wanting to set their sights higher must have the anointment of the people, of their base,” said Banga, the political analyst.