With 10 months to go before the presidential election in October 2020, every public appearance is a chance to send messages. While on a state visit to the north-central Hambol region, President Alassane Ouattara fielded questions on whether or not he would run for another term.
During this four-day tour, Ouattara was able to show that the wear and tear of power had not affected his ability to bring together supporters in his stronghold of northern Côte d’Ivoire.
Elected eight years ago, the head of state still draws crowds like few other politicians.
This Saturday, 30 November, about 10,000 people – sympathisers and the curious – gathered at the Thomas d’Aquin Ouattara stadium in Katiola for the final rally of his tour.
ADO, as he is known, took a lap of honour, greeting an enthusiastic crowd from the roof of his vehicle.
The President talked about the next election deadline:
- “I am in favour of democracy and anyone can be a candidate. 2020 will be fine. There will be no turning back,” he said.
Without ever mentioning them directly, Ouattara then tackled the subject of former presidents Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo:
- “Côte d’Ivoire must continue to move forward, but not with just anyone. We have seen what others have done in the past. We don’t want to go back, we don’t want any more hijackings,” he said. “Our fellow citizens have memories. When I see how some are hesitating… That’s why I haven’t announced my decision yet. I want everyone in my generation to understand that our time is up. But if they are on the ballot form, then so will I be.”
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A giant with feet of clay
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A few minutes later, Ouattara told the press:
- “I do not wish to be a candidate. My firm belief is that after two terms you have to hand over. I will be 78 years old next year. What we can do at 68, we can no longer do at 78, let alone 85 or 86. On that basis, I think it is better for all those in my generation to decide for themselves not to be candidates. Now, if [Bédié and Gbagbo] decide to be [candidates], given their track records, their inability to manage Côte d’Ivoire, I will find another solution, including the one to continue. The Constitution allows me to do two more terms and I could do it without any difficulty because I am in perfect health. That doesn’t mean I’ve decided to go.”
Ouattara believes that the Constitution passed in 2016 allows him to run again, something contested by a large part of the opposition.
While he had opened up to his close aides and some officials in the sub-region for many months, this is the first time Ouattara has made this speech in public.
It came as Henri Konan Bédié appears ever more likely to run as candidate for the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) in 2020.
The former president has not yet revealed his intentions.
But Bédié decided to postpone the PDCI convention, initially scheduled for October, in which the party will nominate its candidate. Its date is still unknown, but it should take place in the second half of 2020.
According to several sources, Ouattara doubts the ability of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, his first choice to succeed him, to win against the opposition coalition that Henri Konan Bédié currently represents.
Bédié has tried tried to bring on board Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro, the former Speaker of the national assembly.
Constitutional reform and electoral code
In Katiola, Ouattara also gave indications on the outlines of the constitutional reform he wishes to implement, and on the new electoral code that will soon be presented to parliament.
In particular, he expressed support for the establishment of a deposit system, and the need for sponsors, to reduce the number of candidates for the presidential election.
- “I personally support a deposit of 200 million CFA francs, but the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate believe that this is a lot. We will see what the government proposes to me. I would like us to try to find a compromise. We cannot have 12 candidates in Côte d’Ivoire, as is the case in other countries on the continent. I hope that in time we will only have two major parties,” he said.
On the other hand, ADO seemed to reject the idea of reintroducing an age limit of 75 years to run for president, which would prevent Bédié, Gbagbo and himself from running.
On Thursday evening, during a meeting with regional officials in which two PDCI officials, Gaston Ouassénan Koné and Jean-Louis Billon, participated, he insisted that “this constitution will not be amended to prevent anyone from running”.
- “I would therefore like to reassure everyone. General, I assure you there will be no exclusion. I am speaking to you because you and I are over 75 years old. That’s why I say it. We’re a family, so we can tell each other anything. We must therefore get along,” the president continued, addressing General Ouassénan directly.
Ouattara concluded by saying that the current Electoral Commission will organise the 2020 elections in a competent manner.
- “The government made proposals, discussed with the political parties for six months. This IEC [Independent Electoral Commission] is more balanced than the previous one, the one that organised the 2015 elections. There will be no turning back,” the Ivorian head of state said.
The new IEC is contested by a large part of the opposition, including Gbagbo’s Front Populaire Ivorien and the PDCI, which have refused to join it and still see it as biased in favour of the government.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.
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