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Côte d’Ivoire presidential polls: for Henri Konan Bédié, ‘age is an asset’

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Monday, 27 July 2020 18:37

Henri Konan Bédié
Henri Konan Bédié, in Paris on 10 September 2019 © Vincent Fournier for Jeune Afrique

For the former 86-year-old Ivorian head of state, who is expected to be nominated as the candidate representing the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire, his “age is an asset”.

“For us at the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire – PDCI), age is an asset. With age comes experience and competence,” Henri Konan Bédié told reporters after casting his vote on Sunday, 26 July at the party’s headquarters in Abidjan during its nomination convention.

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The former Ivorian president (1993-1999), who was previously chased out of power in a coup and hopes to once again serve in the highest office after two failed presidential bids (his candidacy in 2000 was invalidated while his 2010 re-attempt, in which he placed third, was unsuccessful), asserts that he “has a public service mission – that is to restore Côte d’Ivoire – to fulfil”.

“I’m running first and foremost with the new generations” and “young people assailed by unemployment in mind, […] to carve out a better future for them”, said the head of the PDCI.

Bédié’s opponents have criticised him for his advanced age given he will be the oldest contender in the presidential election scheduled to take place on 31 October.

There is little doubt over the outcome of the nomination vote since the former Ivorian head of state is the PDCI’s sole candidate, as his rival’s bid was invalidated.

Seven years of presidential experience

Around 9,000 delegates are registered to vote at 388 polling stations across the country and abroad, for the diaspora, for this “convention turned upside down” by the coronavirus. Maurice Kakou Guikahué, the party’s second-in-command, said that the tentative result is set to be announced at the start of this week (27 July).

At PDCI’s headquarters in Abidjan, supporters donned shirts, dresses, hats and even anti-coronavirus masks made out of a green-patterned fabric featuring the party’s signature colours and elephant-stamped logo, along with a medallion-shaped photo of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the party’s founder, the first Ivorian president and the “father of [the country’s] independence”, who continues to be a beloved figure in Côte d’Ivoire 27 years after his death, not to mention Bédié’s self-proclaimed mentor.

“HKB” made an appearance around 11:30 in the morning, walking slowly but seemingly in good health and wearing his traditional abacost as he dropped his ballot into the ballot box. Nicknamed the “Sphinx of Daoukro”, in reference to his being a man of few words and his hometown in central Côte d’Ivoire, he leisurely spoke with a few reporters in his office afterwards.

“My party believes me to be the person best suited for the job. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that I ran this country for seven years,” he added, after delivering a critical assessment of his country’s situation.

The PDCI governed Côte d’Ivoire in concert with President Alassane Ouattara’s party from 2011 to 2018, before the coalition broke apart over which candidate to select for the 2020 presidential election.

A Ouattara candidacy becomes a real possibility

To those who criticise his age, Bédié responds: “That’s their problem! There’s no age limit under the constitution. I currently have all my physical and intellectual faculties.”

He will likely compete against President Ouattara, 76, whose bid for a third term is becoming a real possibility after the sudden death of his designated successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 61 on 8 July.

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Back in March, Ouattara had announced that he would not run in order to make way for the “new generation”, tacitly suggesting his unfavourable view of Bédié’s presidential bid. However, the death of Ouattara’s successor has upended his plans and will likely force him to pick up the torch of the ruling party, the Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (Rassemblement des houphouëtistes pour la démocratie et la paix – RHDP), in the absence of a consensus candidate.

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The third-largest national party, the opposition party Ivorian Popular Front (Front populaire ivoirien – FPI), has yet to declare its stance on the presidential election. Its founder, ex-president Laurent Gbagbo (from 2000 to 2010), 75, has been on parole ever since his acquittal by the International Criminal Court and no decision has been made regarding his potential return to Côte d’Ivoire.

Ex-rebel chief and former prime minister and Ouattara ally Guillaume Soro, 47, has also announced his candidacy, but is currently living in exile in France after an Ivorian court sentenced him to 20 years in prison on charges of “attempted insurrection”.

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