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With just a little over three weeks to go before citizens cast their vote, Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election has never seemed so uncertain. Although Kouadio Konan Bertin (KKB) still intends to stand for election, Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan have expressed reservations about participating.
Like the rest of the opposition, the presidents of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) and one of the two wings of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) continue to demand as a prerequisite to their participation in the upcoming election that Alassane Ouattara withdraw his candidacy for a third term and that the institutions involved in the electoral process, i.e., the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) and the Constitutional Council, be dissolved.
They would like the vote postponed and a transition government set up until the dispute is settled.
On Saturday, 10 October, they will take part in a meeting that is set to bring together all of President Ouattara’s rivals at Félix-Houphouët-Boigny Stadium in Abidjan. The event is seen as a major test for the opposition, which is struggling to mobilise supporters at the present time.
Since mid-August, sporadic marches have been organised in several communities. About 15 people were killed and several dozen others injured in the demonstrations, and a large number of activists arrested. Public demonstrations have since been banned through 14 October.
Leader of the opposition in his capacity as the eldest member and former head of state, Bédié is expected to elaborate Saturday on his watchword, “civil disobedience”, which he referred to on 20 September. Calls for strikes in the civil service and education and for blockades along certain trunk roads are expected to be launched.
“The goal is to prevent the state from functioning wherever we are able to do so and to make it impossible to hold the election as long as Ouattara is on the ballot,” a person close to Laurent Gbagbo said. Such a stance seems like an active boycott of the election, even though the opposition still refuses to use the term.
Bédié, who just a few weeks ago said he was confident of a possible victory, changed his position after the candidates cleared to stand for election were announced on 14 September. “At the moment, he’s trying to get over his exclusion from the ballot, so he’s shifting his energy towards fighting Alassane’s bid for a third term. This Saturday, he’s going to kick off the hostilities,” a person close to Bédié said.
The “Sphinx of Daoukro” is expected to take a strong stand, leaving no room for doubt about his feelings, and to drive home that his intention is to take peaceful action. According to one of his associates, “He wants people to draw inspiration from the civil disobedience movement led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1932, fighting the inequities impacting cocoa farmers.”
Bédié on the offensive
In the presence of several diplomats working in Abidjan, Bédié has, however, shown a more combative side, speaking of the risk of a “civil war” if the election goes ahead under the current circumstances. “The tone has been cranked up a notch,” said a Western civil servant, while casting doubt on the opposition’s ability to hold out in the long run.
If the opposition intends to use the meeting on Saturday to display its power, will it succeed in maintaining a united front? The coalition’s various platforms have set up a structure to coordinate their action and main leaders (Bédié, Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro also regularly communicate with one another), but a number of disagreements persist about the form that it should take. “PDCI doesn’t have a culture of street protests. They issue calls for protest but aren’t the first to get out into the fray. They dispatch supporters, but that isn’t enough,” said an FPI official.
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In recent days, tensions have also cropped up between close associates of Soro and Charles Blé Goudé after the latter publicly criticised the former National Assembly president.
Coinciding with these fresh tensions, Soro lost a significant pillar of his political machine: Kanigui Soro, president of the party Rally for Côte d’Ivoire (RACI), was recently released after spending 10 months in police custody.
FPI plagued by infighting
For its part, the FPI continues to grapple with infighting. While N’Guessan has embraced the strategy adopted by the rest of the opposition, his sincerity has been called into question by some officials, convinced that he may do an about-face at the last minute.
N’Guessan’s strained relations with Gbagbo and his close Abidjan-based associates, including Assoa Adou, is another problem. This explains why the former prime minister was excluded from an opposition meeting held at PDCI’s headquarters on 20 September. On 3 October, he took part in a meeting held in Abidjan by Goudé’s party, the Pan-African Congress for Justice and People’s Equality (COJEP).
The situation with Simone Gbagbo also continues to fuel some tensions. Just as the former first lady was in the midst of carrying out a flurry of personal initiatives, Gbagbo was forced to get on his soapbox. According to our sources, he spoke on 15 September during an FPI central committee meeting – a first since his arrest on 11 April 2011.
“He told us to keep on fighting and that what is going on right now is just one part of the process and that internal strife needs to be set aside,” a person close to Gbagbo said. In our source’s opinion, the former president doesn’t have any immediate plans to address the public.
“Our sole common denominator is our rejection of Ouattara,” an official from the opposition said. “We are well aware that some coalition members will turn into our rivals before long. Everyone is getting ready for the post-2020 order. Soro and Goudé are competing for the top spot in a new generation of leadership. Simone wants to influence the FPI’s future direction, whether by taking over the party or giving someone else the job.”
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