In a new blow to hopes for an imminent peace in Cote d'Ivoire, UN chief Kofi Annan has said that key elections slated to heal the nation's strife cannot technically take place as scheduled on 30 October.
Annan blamed all sides for the latest hitch in the three year stand-off sparked by a failed coup in September 2002, in an interview with Radio France International on Thursday which is to be aired this weekend.
"It's not going to be possible [to hold the election] because the political leaders and parties have not cooperated," said Annan.
"There are certain things that must be done before the elections in October. We haven't even been able to constitute the electoral commission. Practically, on a technical level, it is not possible," he said.
With seven weeks left before ballots were to be cast, voters' lists have not been updated, many voters are yet to be identified and the electoral commission due to spearhead the vote is not even up and running.
Annan's declaration is the first official acknowledgement from the UN, which is overseeing organisation of the polls, that the presidential elections needs to be postponed and comes after weeks of publicly expressed doubts about the possibility of the ballot.
Annan warned that the time had come for political action and goodwill, and that if not, UN sanctions could follow.
"I think sooner or later the UN Security Council is obliged to act," he said in answer to a question on the possibility of sanctions.
Now that the ballot stands to be postponed, all sides are preparing for a heated debate on the transition.
President Laurent Gbagbo has already said that his mandate does not expire until a new head of state can be sworn in.
But the rebel New Forces, who control the north of the country, and opposition leaders claim there will be a constitutional void after 30 October.
They insist that a transitional government should be put in place, without Gbagbo taking part.
Article 38 of the Ivorian constitution stipulates that the incumbent stays in power if planned presidential elections cannot 'progress normally' or in the event that poll results cannot be announced.
Rebel and opposition leaders have rejected Article 38 as irrelevant in this instance.
According to the opposition alliance that comprises the main Democratic Party of Cote d'Ivoire (PDCI) and the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), article 38 does not provide for the current situation because the elections have not started yet.
"We have pointed out already that the voters' lists have not been published, the belligerent parties have not disarmed and the nation is still divided," said PDCI member Maurice Akaou Guikahue.
"There is not even an electoral commission, so how we can say that the election process is 'in progress'?" he said.
For Guikahue, the main problem is ensuring that every Ivorian is able to vote come polling day.
"The fundamental problem is, what are we going to do to make sure that every Ivorian in this country has proper identity papers and will be eligible to vote? As long as the matter of identification is not resolved, we can not organise free and fair elections," he said.
The New Forces have invited UN special envoy Pierre Schori to the rebel capital Bouake next week to discuss a transition, according to rebel spokesman Alain Lobognon.
"We are engaged in discussions about a transitional government which is the only way to end this crisis," he told IRIN.
However, Gbagbo warned in a cabinet meeting on Thursday that the successive peace deals signed since January 2003 do not mention a transition.
"The president reaffirms his willingness to apply the constitution, the whole constitution and nothing but the constitution," a statement issued after the meeting said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions