Opposition divided over nominations for prime minister job

One week after a lapsed deadline to find a new prime minister to lead a battered Cote d’Ivoire back to stability, the armed and unarmed opposition are locked in bitter disagreement over who to propose for the top job, newspapers close to both groups reported on Monday.

The rebels say their leader, Guillaume Soro, should be prime minister as they control half of the country.

But the former ruling Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), a heavyweight within the opposition coalition known as the G7, is dragging its feet and has come up with half a dozen more possible candidates.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria visited Cote d’Ivoire on Friday, in his capacity as chairman of the African Union, to try to force some action.

But after his departure, Nigerian aides were only able to draw up a list of 16 possible candidates.

The new prime minister was to have been selected by the end of October but that deadline, like countless others laid down as part of a series of peace deals signed over the last three years, has not been honoured.

Pivotal presidential elections should have been held on 30 October, when President Laurent Gbagbo’s mandate expired, but weeks before the scheduled polling day mediators and UN officials agreed that a vote was impossible due to “intransigence” by the warring factions.

Now, under AU proposals the UN has backed, Gbagbo is to remain in office for up to 12 more months, with the new prime minister bearing the task of organising the delayed polls.

Among the 16 figures emerging after the Obasanjo mission are rebel leader Soro and his second-in-command Andre-Louis Dacoury-Tabley.

Governor of the Central Bank of West Africa, Charles Konan Banny -- thought to be Gbagbo’s favourite -- was also on the short list.

Some government ministers were also mentioned, including Defence Minister Rene Amani and Interior Minister Martin Bleou both of whom have been aligned previously to the PDCI.

Former justice minister and one-time member of another opposition group, the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), Jacqueline Oble, was also listed. Oble is thought to have the support of the first lady, Simone Gbagbo, who is also the deputy head of the ruling Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

On leaving Abidjan, Obasanjo promised that discussions would continue in order to fill the post of prime minister as soon as possible.

“I would like to reassure everybody that we are doing everything that is humanly possible to rapidly find a new prime minister to lead government activities,” Obasanjo said.

In the interim, Seydou Diarra, prime minister since the original January 2003 Marcoussis peace deal, will remain in office.

Diarra, who is widely praised for his kind nature, has been criticised by diplomats for failing to exercise the powers invested in him by the Marcoussis pact.

Dismayed by three years of no war, no peace, diplomats warned that the appointment of a new prime minister could be days or even weeks away.