ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara, who won a landslide victory in a weekend poll, said on Wednesday that the first peaceful presidential election since a 2011 civil war will allow his country to move on after years of turmoil.
More than 3,000 people were killed in a brief conflict sparked by ex-president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his defeat by Ouattara in the West African nation’s last presidential poll in 2010.
By contrast, Ouattara’s main rivals in Sunday’s poll readily congratulated him on his re-election to a second five-year term, a sign of Ivory Coast’s improving political stability as investors flood into the world’s biggest cocoa grower.
“This signifies that the page has been completely turned on the crisis that we went through and we can truly dedicate ourselves to the future,” Ouattara said in his first post-victory public statement, broadcast on state television.
Bolstered by nearly double-digit growth rates and faced with a deeply divided opposition, he took nearly 84 percent of vote, according to results announced by the electoral commission on Wednesday.
The scale of his win hands Ouattara a strong mandate to carry on with policies broadly credited with helping Ivory Coast re-emerge as a rising African star while other countries’ economies crumble due to the global commodities crash.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Ouattara, who was repeatedly barred from seeking the presidency over what opponents said were his foreign origins, said he would seek to strip nationality clauses from the constitution if re-elected.
“We know he’ll continue what he has started so well. We want peace in this country,” said Sylvie Afro as she sat behind a market stall selling mobile phone accessories in the Adjame district of the commercial capital Abidjan.
A COUNTRY DIVIDED?
Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who heads Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), finished a distant second with a little over 9 percent after leading the party to its first poll participation since 2010.
His candidacy was an attempt to bring the FPI back into the political mainstream in the wake of Gbagbo’s arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Court, where he is awaiting trial accused of crimes against humanity.
While he accepted defeat and congratulated Ouattara, N’Guessan said the results exposed lingering divisions in Ivorian society.
“The vote shows that Ivory Coast is still in a crisis. The vote confirms that Ivorians need reconciliation,” he told journalists at his campaign headquarters.
Sunday’s turnout of nearly 55 percent is considerably higher than in polls in 1995 and 2000 but falls well short of the 80 percent recorded during the hotly contested 2010 vote.
Participation was highest in Ouattara’s strongholds in the north and in parts of Abidjan.
Lower turnout in Gbagbo’s traditional bastions of support appeared to reflect a failure by N’Guessan to rally the ex-president’s backers, dealing a blow to his efforts to solidify his control over the party.
FPI hardliners disavowed N’Guessan’s election bid, calling for their supporters to boycott the polls and provoking a major rift within Ivory Coast’s main opposition party.
But they too, like N’Guessan during his campaign, pointed to what they said was Ouattara’s failure to foster reconciliation, accusing him of pursuing one-sided justice by prosecuting Gbagbo’s allies and ignoring the abuses of his own backers.
In Abidjan, where there were few visible displays of celebration or disappointment, many said they just wanted to get on with their lives.
“We will try to forget, because all great nations must go through this at some point. We will have to accept, to forgive, to forget everything in order to move forward,” said Sekou Diomande, an IT engineer in Abidjan.
Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland
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