Q&A: Ivory Coast parliamentary elections

Voters in Ivory Coast go to the polls on Sunday in their first parliamentary election since 2000, when former President Laurent Gbagbo came to power with his Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

Image caption President Ouattara wants to consolidate his position

It is only a few months since the violence caused by Mr Gbagbo's refusal to accept that he had lost the presidential elections died down and Alassane Ouattara took office as the new leader.

Mr Ouattara has vowed to unite the country after the latest bloodshed.

Mr Gbagbo is in detention in the Netherlands pending an International Criminal Court hearing next June to confirm charges against him arising from the post-election violence.

What is the election's importance?

Some observers believe the poll is crucial to repairing the country's bitter political divisions; a legacy both of the 2002-2007 armed conflict and the 2010 post-election violence that killed some 3,000 people and caused thousands to flee.

The National Congress for the Resistance of Democracy (CNRD) - A pro-Gbagbo coalition which includes the FPI - initially said they would boycott the election, despite being urged by Mr Ouattara to take part. However, a few days ago they reversed their decision, saying they sensed the government was willing to continue dialogue.

It is believed the move will ease tension in the country, but will make things harder for President Ouattara who is trying to consolidate his position.

Why is the country divided?

Image caption Former President Gbagbo appeared at the ICC on Monday

Ivory Coast was once a peaceful and prosperous country, but in 2002 soldiers, mostly from the Muslim-dominated north mutinied, attacking several cities. The rebellion against the government of President Gbagbo - who had been voted into office two years earlier - led to the partition of the former French colony with the rebel - "New Forces" - controlling most of central and northern Ivory Coast - while government soldiers controlled the south.

The conflict ended in 2007 with the signing of the Ouagadougou Political Agreement, which also laid the foundation for the 2010 presidential elections. However, there was disagreement between President Gbagbo and Mr Ouattara, over who had won the election. Results certified by the UN said the latter was the winner, but the Constitutional Court declared Mr Gbagbo the victor.

Amid this stand-off, fighting started in early 2011, ending with the arrest of Mr Gbagbo by pro-Ouattara fighters, backed by UN peacekeepers. Mr Ouattara took office as president in May and the country has been largely peaceful since.

What is the electoral process?

Members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected through universal suffrage to serve five-year terms.

The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) is responsible for organizing the elections, while the Constitutional Council is the final authority on all election matters.

Voters must be at least 18 and registered with the electoral authorities. The CEI has said there are some 5.76 million people registered to vote out of a population of 21.5 million.

Candidates must be Ivorian and have a certificate of nationality. Naturalized Ivorians must produce a copy of the naturalization decree. The issue of nationality has been central to the Ivorian political crisis since the early 1990s. Many northerners said they were being denied Ivorian citizenship, on the basis that their ethnic origins lay in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso or Mali.

More than 1000 candidates from 35 political parties will be contesting 255 seats.

Who are the parties?

Houphouetist Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP)

A pro-Ouattara coalition formed in 2005 by the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), Rally of Republicans (RDR), the Union for Democracy and Peace in Ivory Coast (UDPCI) and the Movement of the Future Forces (MFA). Each party is putting up its own candidate, a move described by the MFA leader as a worrying sign for the RHDP's future.

The former rebels, New Forces, have ruled out transforming into a political party - despite their leader Guillaume Soro being the current prime minister - and instead have expressed their support for the RHDP.

Most RHDP parties present themselves as national and say they stand for unity, stability and reconciliation.

Rally of Republicans (RDR)

President Ouattara's party. Formed by a breakaway faction of the then ruling PDCI-RDA in 1994, its main support base is in the north.

RDR boycotted the 2000 elections after parliament passed a law seen as seeking to stop Mr Ouattara from standing for president, claiming that he was not of pure Ivorian parentage.

Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI)

The former ruling party and - for 44 years - the only authorized party in Ivory Coast.

Freedom and Democracy for the Republic (Lider)

Formed in August 2011 by the outgoing Speaker of the National Assembly and former FPI member, Mamadou Koulibaly.

Mr Koulibaly has accused President Ouattara of illegally reorganizing the CEI and the Constitutional Council.

Ivorian Popular Front (FPI)

The party of former President Gbagbo was formed in 1982 and fought for political reforms in the early 1990s.

Some members decided to defy the party boycott of the elections and announced plans to stand as independent candidates. The party has since reversed its decision and will take part in the polls.

The FPI has suspended its participation in the CEI, saying it was "under-represented" in the body.

What are the challenges?

Despite reassurance given by the electoral commission, there are fears of low voter turnout in the elections.

Security and logistics are among the major challenges. UN secretary-general's special representative and head of UN peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast (ONUCI), Bert Koenders, has said that it is important that "all Ivorians in whichever region they will be voting feel they are included and that there is maximum security".

The UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Margot Wallstrom, has expressed the fear that the sexual violence, that took place around the presidential election, could be repeated.

Who is handling security, monitoring?

Some 25,000 police officers, gendarmes and soldiers - backed by the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) and the French peacekeeping Licorne Forces - will be deployed across the country to ensure security. ONUCI has assured the authorities that they will offer support if called upon.

At least six local groups have agreed to monitor the elections. International organizations such as the UN and the USA-based Carter Centre will also send missions. The regional organisation Ecowas has promised 60 observers.

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