With the COVID-19 pandemic hurting the economy, continued instability in the east and a political tug-of-war at the heart of government, the young administration of Félix Tshisekedi is trying to impose its will, seeking allies at home and abroad.
Côte d’Ivoire’s Ouattara announces third term bid in October vote
During a state address on Thursday, Côte d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara made his intention to run for a third term official.
He ultimately chose his country’s celebrations commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of independence to announce his presidential bid. “I will be running in the presidential election on 31 October 2020,” the Ivorian head of state announced on 6 August during his traditional address to the nation. For the occasion, the political party Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) mobilised its activists in various locations across Abidjan.
During the 25-minute speech, Ouattara explained his decision to reverse his original plan of refraining from running for a third term. “On 5 March, I informed the citizens of Côte d’Ivoire of my desire to abstain from pursuing another presidential bid in order to pass on the torch to a new generation. I had started to organise my departure, plan my post-presidential life and resume the work of my foundation,” he said.
However, Ouattara continued, the sudden death on 8 July of Amadou Gon Coulibaly, his hand-picked successor and presidential candidate, changed everything. “Given these exceptional circumstances, I have decided to respond favourably to the call of my fellow citizens. This decision, which I have carefully considered, is a duty which I accept in order to do what is best for the nation,” he added, going as far as to describe the choice as “a sacrifice”.
Ruling out the possibility of postponing the presidential election – “The electoral calendar must be respected” – Ouattara spoke of a “tight timeline” and painted himself as a guarantor of peace and security, using this role as grounds for his controversial decision.
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Ouattara’s announcement was hardly surprising since Gon Coulibaly’s funeral in Korhogo on 17 July. At that time, people were calling on him to run, while formalities were initiated to collect citizen signatures – now a necessary step to stand for the highest office of the land.
Several delegations of kings and traditional chiefs have also paid visit to Ouattara at his home in the Riviera Golf neighbourhood of Abidjan. On 1 August, the president hosted the former warlords of the rebel movement which brought him to power in 2011, to whom he announced his desire to run for a third term.
For RHDP’s top ranking officials, Ouattara’s candidacy was the only way to maintain the ruling party’s unity and grip on power. Gon Coulibaly’s death has revived political appetites and ego wars.
During his address, Ouattara announced that he wanted to strengthen his reconciliation efforts. But, while several observers envisioned him taking steps to smooth out his relationship with Guillaume Soro, as several of his supporters have been jailed since the end of 2019, the head of state merely granted a collective pardon to some 2,000 people convicted of minor offences.
Nor did Ouattara bring up the case of Laurent Gbagbo. As it happens, the former president is looking to return to Côte d’Ivoire after the end of the proceedings against him before the International Criminal Court (ICC), but his efforts to obtain a new passport have yet to be successful.
On Thursday morning, dozens of young people denouncing the withdrawal of Gbagbo’s name from the electoral register protested outside the country’s independent electoral commission. Protesters burned tires and law enforcement responded with the use of tear gas. Tensions had calmed by the middle of the day and ten or so individuals were arrested. According to a number of observers, such incidents are likely to become more widespread between now and election day, with the first round scheduled to take place on 31 October.
Although the head of state and his supporters view the new constitution approved in 2016 following his re-election as giving him the legal right to run, the opposition maintains that the two-term limit still stands and intends to loudly challenge his candidacy.
Unity in opposition
Usually divided, the various components of the Ivorian opposition are uniting in opposition to Ouattara’s candidacy.
“A third term of Ouattara would be illegal.” As early as last week, when the Ivorian head of state had not yet officially announced his intention to stand for re-election, Henri Konan Bédié, the head of the Parti Démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire, himself a presidential candidate, had laid the groundwork for the line adopted today by the caciques of his party.
To support their claims about unconstitutionality of Ouattara’s candidacy, opponents point to Article 183 of the 2016 constitution. “The legislation currently in force in Côte d’Ivoire remains applicable, except for the intervention of new texts, in that it is not contrary to the present Constitution,” the article states.
They say that this means that the constitutional provisions on the limitation of the number of presidential mandates to two, already present in the 2000 constitution and reintroduced – in a different article – in the 2016 constitution, must apply. On the number of presidential terms, the promulgation of the 2016 constitution does not mean a wiping of the slate clean.
The debate is likely to be fought out in the streets and in the courts in the days to come.