ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire – I’ve been in Cote d’Voire (Ivory Coast) since New Years Day meeting with government officials and talking to victims of recent election-related violence. I’ve also met the president, lunched with First Lady Simone Ehivet Gbagbo and even attended an exclusive meeting with all seven members of the Constitutional Council.
President Gbagbo won’t step aside because he is the certified winner of the presidential election.Ble Goude, government minister of Youth and Employment, likens the election dispute to the 2000 presidential vote in the United States. Remember the hanging chads and the never ending vote count in Florida? The U.S. Supreme Court, under the authority granted to it by the U.S. Constitution, intervened and declared George W. Bush the winner. Al Gore bowed out graciously and Bush was sworn in as president.Here in Cote d’Voire, the election results were disputed by members of the Electoral Commission. Commissioners agreed on results for 14 areas, but five were disputed. The three-day deadline for announcing the results was missed.
By law, the disputed election was sent to the Constitutional Commission where the seven member panel –after examining evidence of vote fraud—ruled that 500,000 ballots were invalid. They declared Gbagbo the winner. He was sworn in—as directed by the country’s constitution—as president.But unlike Gore, Ouatarra is hanging on after a fraudulent election. Could you imagine Al Gore holding his own swearing-in ceremony? That’s what Ouatarra did without the approval of the Constitutional Council as required by Ivorian Law.
Ouatarra and his supporters claim Gbagbo was chosen president by his political friends on the Council, but when I met with them this week, they appeared to me to be honest men and women of integrity. Some have PhD’s and are well versed in Ivorian constitutional law. They did not resemble political hacks. Instead, I felt I was in the presence of the best and brightest legal minds of Cote d’Ivoire.Meanwhile, Ouatarra has his own friends on the Electoral Commission. The commission president announced Alassane Ouatarra the winner. Not in the presence of representatives of both campaigns, not in the presence of other members of the commission, not in the commission headquarters — all contrary to Ivorian law. Instead, he acted alone and made the announcement at the Golf Hotel, campaign headquarters for Ouatarra. Ouatarra was sworn in as president, but not by the Constitutional Council as required by law.
I’ve interviewed witnesses and victims of election day fraud and violence in the rebel controlled North and Central regions of the country. They’ve told me about the early closure of polling places and ballot boxes that were stuffed by rebels. They told of armed rebels that had forced people away from polling places. Some Gbagbo supporters and poll workers were brutally attacked. I interviewed one Gbagbo worker who was assaulted, raped and left for dead.
I also saw vote results from various Northern polling places. Many precincts had recorded zero votes for Gbagbo even though many people had voted for him in the same precincts in the first round of he presidential election. Some precincts recorded more people voting than had actually registered.Earlier today, I interviewed two hospitalized victims of the Dec. 29 shootings by United Nations “Peacekeepers.” Many people here in the capital city of Abidjan say the UN troops are no longer protecting them and they are not impartial in this dispute (The UN backs Ouatarra). They say the UN’s welcome is over and they want them to leave the country.
So, Cote d’Ivoire’s Christian president refuses to step aside. He says he wants to protect his nation from genocide that may come from the rebels and their former leader, Ouatarra. He says the election was fraudulent and France, the USA and the UN have rushed to judgment. He wants an international investigation. Washington and the international community should give him the opportunity to present the evidence.