"The presidential election cannot be held this year. It is technically impossible when you look at the work to be done on the ground to register all the voters," the CEI official said.

There was no immediate comment from the government or presidency on the reported postponement.

Registration delays

The election is meant to seal a March 2007 peace deal signed between Gbagbo and fighters from the New Forces, who fought a civil war in the north of the country during 2002 and 2003.

In recent weeks, Gbago and the New Forces, whose leader Guillaume Soro became Ivory Coast's prime minister in the country’s coalition government after the peace deal, have indicated that a postponement is likely.

"The presidential election will be postponed to 2009, that's for sure," the CEI official said.

"But we can't announce it now so as not to break the momentum of [voter] registration among the people".

Richard Moncrieff, West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, said countries supporting the election should work to ensure that secure polls are held.

"It is crucial the process is right," he said, while referring to concerns over incidents where youths disrupted the registration of some voters.

"At the same time, there is a risk in any delay to the vote, a risk of frustration among the population, which has already seen so many previous delays," Moncrieff said.

The New Forces, who control the northern half of the country, called last week for a postponement of the November 30 election date.

They said delays in voter registration and in the demobilisation of civil war combatants were factors in their appeal to hold the election at a later date.

Recently, former combatants from the New Forces have held protests to demand bigger demobilisation payouts, stoking fears that the 2007 peace deal could collapse.