Ivory Coast opposition leader Henri Konan Bedie has challenged the results of an election in which he came third, failing to make the second round run-off, a spokesman said on Friday.
Ivory Coast’s first election in a decade left Bedie with around 25 percent of the vote, against President Laurent Gbagbo’s 38 percent and challenger Alassane Ouattara’s 32 percent. Gbagbo and Ouattara now head to the second round scheduled for November 28.
The long-delayed poll in the world’s top cocoa grower is meant to reunite the once prosperous nation after the war if 2002-3 split it in two and left the north in the hands of rebels.
It is also the flashpoint of a bitter rivalry between the three main candidates, although widespread fears of street violence between their supporters have so far not come true.
Bedie alleged rigging and called for a recount shortly after the result was announced on Thursday.
“We have lodged a challenge to the results with the independent electoral commission, demanding a recount, and now we are waiting for the response,” Emile Ebrote, a spokesman for Bedie’s party, said by telephone.
Ivory Coast’s constitutional court has until November 10 to hear all challenges and then validate the first round results.
Many Ivorians had feared such a close race would be disputed, leading to street violence as in previous elections.
But apart from a few hundred Bedie supporters blocking roads around his party headquarters in a leafy suburb of Abidjan on Thursday, there have been no mass protests on his behalf.
The top United Nations representative to Ivory Coast, Y.J. Choi, has said he is not worried by the complaint, provided Bedie sticks to democratic methods. All candidates have been under immense international pressure to accept the results.
If the court rejects Bedie’s complaint and validates the results, all eyes will turn to Bedie’s potential role as king-maker. Gbagbo and Ouattara are likely to be close in the second round, so the contest hinges on which way Bedie’s supporters will vote.
Ouattara and Bedie, who have a deal that whoever loses the in the first round would back the other, met on Friday. No details emerged from the meetings, which are due to resume on Saturday.
“Everyone must back ADO (Ouattara),” was the front-page headline in the pro-Bedie daily newspaper Le Nouveau Reveil.
“Anyone but Gbagbo!” said another.
Much will hinge on whether Bedie will stick to the deal, even in the face of a possible approach by Gbagbo, and on whether Bedie’s supporters can be persuaded to back Ouattara.
It is not clear how many of Bedie’s core supporters, drawn largely from the populous central and southern Baoule tribe, will back a northerner — and one who has been accused of having links to the rebellion, even though he denies the charge.
Cultural rifts between the mercantile, largely Muslim northern peoples and the farming, more Christian south run deep.
The head of Gbagbo’s presidential campaign, Affi N’Guessan, told a news conference his party was suspicious of Ouattara’s landslide win in some regions of the rebel-held north.
“In the north, Ouattara achieved surprising scores which can only raise questions about the sincerity of the vote in a zone where the state does not exercise its authority,” he said.
“We also know that the number of people registered to vote in this region has grown extraordinarily in this election,” he added, a reference to the new electoral list that was a sticking point for years because of complaints by Gbagbo’s supporters that many northerners are really from Mali or Burkina Faso.
Populist politics seeking to deny citizenship to some northerners because of cultural ties to neighbours lie at the root of the divisions that started the war in the first place.
In Denguele and Savanes, in the far north on the Mali border, Ouattara won 93 percent and 86 percent, respectively.