It’s no surprise that Laurent Gbagbo’s name did not appear on the electoral list published on Saturday, 20 May, by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Gbagbo’s party, the Parti des peuples africains – Côte d’Ivoire (PPA-CI), which boycotted the meeting of the electoral body in protest, had anticipated the exclusion of the former president.
“We find it unfair,” said Sébastien Dano Djédjé, one of the former leader’s lieutenants.
Faced with the criticism of pro-Gbagbo politicos, Ibrahim Kuibiert Coulibaly, president of the IEC, tried to justify the approach of his institution.
“President Gbagbo had been removed from the electoral list in 2020. His lawyer referred the matter to the electoral commission to ask us to account [for it]. We explained to them that a court decision was made available to the commission, which stipulates that President Gbagbo is deprived of his civil and political rights. The Plateau court rejected them. That is why he is not on the list.”
Sentenced to 20 years in prison
Although acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which tried him for crimes against humanity committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, Gbagbo remains under sentence of 20 years in prison by the Ivorian justice system in the case of the so-called heist of the Banque centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO) in 2011.
However, the PPA-CI, which has been conducting an all-out media offensive since the announcement, rejected the arguments en bloc.
Electoral exclusion is an Ivorian political custom
“I challenge anyone who has the court decision that says Laurent Gbagbo is stripped of his civil rights to publish it so that Ivorians can see. We have no knowledge of it,” said Habiba Touré, a lawyer and chief of staff of the former president, during a recent televised debate.
“The fact of being a political opponent should not deprive [him] of the elementary rights attached to his citizenship,” she said.
Between those who believe that the IEC has only respected the law and the supporters of the former president, positions seem irreconcilable. Removing Gbagbo’s name from the electoral lists has perhaps a hidden motive – his possible candidacy for the 2025 presidential elections.
An ‘Ivorian political custom’
At a press conference after the announcement, Justin Katinan Koné, the spokesman of the PPA-CI, had gone to the mat to “demand the restoration of the former president’s right to vote”. When he had (already) been removed from the electoral rolls in 2020 and his presidential candidacy had been rejected, Gbagbo’s relatives had referred to the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
The court had asked the Ivorian state to “take all necessary measures to immediately remove all obstacles preventing the applicant [Laurent Gbagbo] from registering on the electoral roll”.
In response to his continued removal from the electoral roll, the PPA-CI reiterated this decision, arguing that it is still binding on Côte d’Ivoire.
“We hold the government fully responsible for the risks of unrest that the decision to reject the registration of President Laurent Gbagbo is causing the country,” said Koné.
“Electoral exclusion is an Ivorian political custom,” says political analyst and essayist Julien Kouao.
“Alassane Ouattara was excluded from the electoral game because of his nationality, Henri Konan Bédié was excluded from the 2000 presidential election for not being present in Côte d’Ivoire, and today it is Laurent Gbagbo who is excluded for judicial reasons. All this does not honour the political staff,” he says.
In the political scene, this decision is also causing a stir. At a press conference, Soumaïla Bredoumy Kouassi, spokesperson for the Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), called for the reinstatement of the former president to the list.
Kouassi said his party was “against all forms of injustice…the country is entering a phase of stress and uncertainty…[so] it is not in our interest, in the current context, to add fuel to the fire”.
After the failure of their ‘civil disobedience’ during the 2020 presidential election, the PDCI and other pro-Gbagbo groups had formed alliances for the 2021 legislative elections and won several dozen seats. For the local – municipal and regional – elections scheduled for 2 September, the political formations of the two former presidents are working on new agreements.
Will the removal of Laurent Gbagbo from the electoral roll have an impact on his party’s participation in these elections? For now, no decision has been announced. Koné tells us that the party’s political committee met on Monday, 22 May, and that its strategy will be defined in the coming days, upon consultation with the various bodies.
Gbagbo’s room for manoeuvre seems relatively narrow. “For him to regain his civil rights, he needs to benefit from an amnesty law. The amnesty can be taken by the parliament, but also by the president of the Republic through an ordinance,” says Kouao. In Gbagbo’s case, the solution is not legal, but political.
The opposition has hammered home the fact that the acquittal of the former president and other prisoners in the post-election crisis is part of the resolutions of the political dialogue initiated by the government. However, this option does not seem to be on the agenda yet.
On 6 August, during his address to the nation, President Alassane Ouattara had granted a pardon to his predecessor. In the wake of this, he also announced other measures to calm the political climate, including the release of Gbagbo’s assets.
Since then, little has happened, and tensions have resurfaced in the run-up to the local elections. The PPA-CI and PDCI, aka the Mouvement des générations capables (MGC) of Simone Gbagbo, have denounced the partiality of the IEC, the electoral division, and are already raising doubts about the transparency of the election.
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