Ivory Coast and the (more or less forgotten) first round

The battle for Abidjan “appears to be reaching a climax” between the forces of de-facto president Laurent Gbagbo and the candidate most international actors agree defeated him in the 28 November runoff election, Alassane Ouattara.

It seems as if Ivorian politics has become reduced to just these two men and their followers. It is worth remembering that the first round of the presidential election, on 31 October, was very much a three-way affair.

In that election, Gbago won only 38%, Ouatara 32%, and a third candidate, Henri Konan Bédié, won 25.2%, according to official results. (There were 14 candidates in total, but no other candidate reached even 0.5%.)

Obviously supporters of Bédié split between the two, but went somewhat more for Ouattara. (Reported turnout figures were very similar in the two rounds.)

The polarization of the second round conjures up some of the worst fears of opponents of presidentialism for elections in divided societies. Ivory Coast really is divided three ways, not two, based on the first-round results.

It is not possible (at least for me) to say how things might have been different had there been a parliamentary system. Maybe the fragile political process was doomed to break down in any event. But had the first round instead been a parliamentary election to determine the composition of the government, neither Ouattara nor Gbagbo could not have claimed the mandate of a majority, following a runoff, in this divided society. Some coalition of the parties of two of these three men would have been a possible outcome.

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