Election outcome still uncertain in Ivory Coast

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Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Military authorities in Ivory Coast in Africa have sealed the country's borders. That move today follows tension and uncertainty over the outcome of presidential elections on Sunday. Earlier in the day today, Ivory Coast officials declared a winner. The election officials said that the opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, beat incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, by nearly nine percentage points. But it appears that Gbagbo and his supporters are not willing to accept the result. This election was supposed to heal the divisions left over from Ivory Coast's civil war back in 2002. Instead, there's been tension and violence. The BBC's John James is in the economic capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan. John, tell us about the winner, this opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, and where he comes from?

JOHN JAMES: Yeah, Alassane Ouattara is an economist. He took a scholarship to study in the states. Actually he's seen as almost an American figure here. He speaks English fluently. He got a doctorate in economics and had top positions at the IMF, International Monetary Fund and also at the West African Bank. He was the Prime Minister in the Ivory Coast between 1990 and 1993, so very much a technocrat, a skilled person when it comes to business and economics. But this time around, he has managed to prove his political skills as well.

MULLINS: So how does it factor in that he's a Muslim from the north?

JAMES: Well, Alassane Ouattara has been the figure almost at the center of the Ivorian crisis for the last 20 years or so because, for a start, he's a first Muslin presidential candidate in election here. His identity, whether he was Ivorian or not has been the center of the dispute here that caused all sorts of identity problems because people from the north share a very similar culture to those from Burkina-faso and Mali which are the two countries to the north of Ivory Coast who have many migrants who come here. And so, really his candidacy for the presidency was a huge step forward. It's still controversial but I think, having him as president here, if that turns out to be the result, will be a major breakthrough for the country.

MULLINS: It's controversial for many reasons and there was even violence with representative of the Electoral Commission, publicly tearing up the first batch of results the other day. This candidate, the opposition leader, won by nine percentage points. What has taken so long for the final results to be announced and is there any reason to believe that numbers were being tinkered with behind the scenes?

JAMES: It's difficult to say but certainly the lack of the publication of those results has led to a huge amount of tension here. And I don't think the story's finished really because the Constitutional Council, which is a body that officially rubber stamps the election, they said the Electoral Commission hadn't published the results on time, so they were taking it over. The problem is they're seen as close to the presidents and the opposition don't like that. The head of the Independent Electoral Commission then at a surprise meeting published the results and immediately the Constitutional Council said those results were invalid. So, we're in the middle of a sort of tussle between these two institutions.

MULLINS: And you know, for the international community, this is a place, Ivory Coast, that has been violent for so long in the civil war. Nobody wanted to see a recurrence of that kind of violence. But I wonder when Hilary Clinton, for instance, speaks out about the election, will now the international leaders put pressure for the results for the vote count to be released sooner than it was. What does the international community have at stake including the United States?

JAMES: Yeah, it's an important country within the region. This is, in fact, the biggest economy, so within West Africa, if Ivory Coast is working and functioning properly and growing and prosperous as it was in the initial decades after independence in the '60's and '70's, then that gives the region a huge boost. People may not all heard of Ivory Coast but certainly they've eaten something from Ivory Coast which is their chocolate bar. 40% of the world's cocoa comes from this country and so the cocoa in chocolate bars in supermarkets around the world comes from here. And any sort of disturbance, tension at the light that we're seeing at the moment can do all sorts of things to the cocoa price which actually has shot up in the last couple of days. And so, yeah, little things here can have a huge impact on people's speculation around the cocoa crop and that could even make people's chocolate bars more expensive.

MULLINS: Okay. Thank you very much. The BBC's John James in the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan. Thank you.

JAMES: Thank you.