Ivory Coast citizens went to the polls on Saturday but some opposition supporters tried to disrupt the vote following a call from two rival candidates of President Alassane Ouattara for a boycott over his bid for a third term.
The streets of the largest city Abidjan were largely quiet, in contrast to the violent run-up to the election. The vote is seen as a test of stability in the West African nation, one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies.
In the city’s upmarket Cocody district, Ouattara cast his ballot with his wife and called on all the electorate to do the same.
“Apart from a few isolated places – a dozen or so – the vote is going well,” he told journalists.
Voting proceeded smoothly at a number of polling stations in Abidjan, Reuters witnesses said, but in the city’s Blockhauss neighbourhood around 20 young men blocked the entrance to a school, preventing would-be voters from entering until police dispersed the group.
In similar pockets of unrest, polling stations were ransacked or voting obstructed in some central and southern regions, but the election was proceeding without disruption in most of the country, a police source said.
Election observers backed up this assessment. “Things are going well overall,” said the head of the observer mission from the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga.
Street clashes linked to the election have killed 30 people since August and brought back memories of the 2010 presidential vote, which unleashed a brief civil war killing 3,000 people after Ouattara’s predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down.
Opponents of the 78-year-old Ouattara say he is breaking the law by running again because the constitution limits presidents to two terms, and is jeopardising hard-earned economic gains in the country, the world’s top cocoa producer.
Ouattara says he can run again under a new constitution approved in 2016, and is doing so only because his handpicked successor died unexpectedly in July. He is seen as likely to win.
His two main rivals, former president Henri Konan Bedie and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, have called for an election boycott. Affi N’Guessan has told supporters to blockade polling places.
Critics call Ouattara’s candidacy a new blow to West African democracy following a military coup in Mali in August and a successful third-term bid this month by the president of Guinea, Alpha Conde.