November 4, 2010 / 1:16 AM / 8 years ago

Ivorian leader ahead in poll, faces runoff

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo was ahead in an election, the electoral commission said Thursday, but he will face a run-off against opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as no one won a majority of the vote.

Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, President of Ivory Coast and presidential candidate for the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), gather outside the party's headquarters in Abidjan after the first partial results were released by the electoral commission November 3, 2010. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Gbagbo won 38.3 percent of the 4.4 million votes cast, compared with 32 percent for Ouattara, a former prime minister and senior IMF official, the commission said.

The election was meant to reunite the once prosperous West African nation and end years of crisis after a 2002-3 war split it in two, leaving the north in the hands of rebels.

But many Ivorians also feared that a close race could be disputed, leading to violent street protests in a country with a history of trouble at election time.

The main city of Abidjan was calm Wednesday.

In the first official complaint about the tense and long-delayed poll, third-placed Henri Konan Bedie called for a recount and demanded the election commission stop announcing results before the official result was given. Bedie won 25.2 percent of the vote.

Cocoa exporters in the world’s top grower, which supplies 40 percent of the world’s cocoa — mostly from southern regions — temporarily stopped operations this week and expected to restart Thursday if things stayed calm.

A handful of results have yet to be declared but they will not dent Gbagbo’s lead.

Hours before the total result was due, Bedie, a former president, lodged a complaint.

“The PDCI ... rejects a clear intention to rig the results. The PDCI ... demands that the announcement of the result be stopped and a recount of the ballots be carried out,” he said in a statement read out by his campaign director Djedje Mady.

Earlier in the day, several hundred of Bedie’s supporters had gathered at his PDCI party headquarters warning that they would not accept the results.

As predicted, Ouattara fared better in the north, where he is from and where soldiers who felt neglected by successive southern-dominated governments rose up against Gbagbo in 2002.

Bedie scored well in central regions where there are many of his fellow Baoule voters. Gbagbo’s support base was focussed on the south and the west of the country.

TENSION EASING?

International observers praised Ivory Coast’s poll on Sunday, but concerns had risen over the lack of results and the mounting tensions in the days that followed.

They also raised concerns about being shut out of the process of tabulating results on some occasions.

“Our observers were refused entry several times,” Maria Espinosa, deputy chief of an EU observers mission. “International observers should be there for the whole process.”

If the second round delivers a clear winner and any disputes can be resolved, it may entice investors back to what was once a rare economic success story in an unstable region. Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond yielded a stable 9.8 percent Wednesday after dipping below 10 percent.

All candidates have come under concerted pressure by the U.N. — which deployed 9,500 peacekeeping soldiers and police to secure the vote — and foreign powers to accept the results.

Writing by David Lewis and Tim Cocks; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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