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Côte d’Ivoire election 2020: Opposition struggles to find common ground

By Vincent Duhem, in Abidjan
Posted on Monday, 2 November 2020 18:53

N'Guessan, president of FPI speaks during opposition coalition news conference in Abidjan
Pascal Affi N'Guessan, president of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), speaks during an opposition coalition news conference after the election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 1, 2020. REUTER/Luc Gnago

Noting “the end” of Côte d'Ivoire's incumbent president Alassane Ouattara’s term, opposition parties on Sunday called for “the start of a civilian transition”.

On Sunday, 1 November, visitors have to identify themselves to gain entry to Henri Konan Bédié’s Abidjan home. On high alert and very vigilant, security personnel thoroughly search the bags of all who pass through. After a solid hour-long wait, the main representatives of the opposition finally made an appearance. As in recent days, Pascal Affi N’Guessan took the floor.

While results are still being tallied the day after the presidential election, Affi N’Guessan predictably announced that the opposition didn’t recognise the validity of the vote.

READ MORE A surprise guest in the 31 October Ivorian presidential vote: Laurent Gbagbo

“This was a sham election […] marred by many irregularities and a low turnout,” he said. Just the day before, he asserted that “our fellow citizens responded to our instructions to lead a civil disobedience campaign.”

Noting “the end” of Alassane Ouattara’s presidential term, the opposition coalition subsequently called for “the start of a civilian transition in order to create the conditions for a fair, transparent and inclusive election.”

Disagreement over the ‘transition’

However, despite the displays of unity on Sunday, N’Guessan’s announcement comes on the back of disagreement between the coalition’s various members. Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) had hoped that a transitional government would be immediately named.

Guillaume Soro, Pascal N’Guessan and Simone Gbagbo were of the same mindset. One day earlier, the former first lady had made the first move by calling on the opposition and civil society to “find a way to set up a transitional government” in order to “build a foundation for a meaningful national reconciliation”.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire: Where is civil society ahead of the presidential election?

But Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party opposed the idea. “We feel it’s too early to form a transitional government because the current environment doesn’t lend itself to it. What’s more, we can’t condemn Ouattara for violating the law and then do the same ourselves. Our view is that we need to move forward with the civil disobedience movement so that we can force Ouattara to negotiate,” said a person close to the former Ivorian president. According to our sources, Gbagbo and Bédié spoke with one another to work out their disagreement over strategy.

Heightened tensions

The opposition’s statement comes at a time when tensions are still at a peak in some localities, particularly those in the Yamoussoukro region. All day long, traffic was prevented from reaching certain neighbourhoods and the political capital’s entry points were blocked by extensive barricades. A team of ECOWAS monitors were forced to travel by helicopter to reach Abidjan after waiting endlessly to enter the city.

READ MORE Côte d’Ivoire: Can Ouattara break into this opposition bastion?

At the city’s northern entry point, the motorcade of a businessman close to the government, Ousmane Bamba, was attacked. He wasn’t injured but six vehicles were set on fire.

In Zatta, near Yamoussoukro, the motorcade of budget minister Mamadou Sanogo’s employees was targeted by protesters blocking the road. The department officials were shot at with .12-calibre bullets and three vehicles were set ablaze. According to a statement from the budget ministry, one injured victim was reported missing and another person was seriously wounded.

Finally, the town of Toumodi, south of Yamoussoukro, was the site of violent clashes that injured 18 people. The market and several stores were torched. In the adjacent village of Toumodikro, four people died after a fire broke out in a shared courtyard. A curfew has been put in place in the locality.

The RHDP strikes back

“Over the past few days, some of our officials have been attacked by individuals armed by opposition leaders. Cars and houses have been set alight,” said Adama Bictogo, executive director of the ruling party, Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP).

He also condemned “the irresponsible behaviour of political actors, particularly Pascal Affi N’Guessan, Simone Gbagbo and Maurice Kacou Guikahué.”

“Via their statements, they are placing themselves outside the provisions on which our Constitution rests. They are engaging in a posture of defiance towards the institutions of the Republic and the authority of the state. The RHDP calls on our country’s authorities to take firm action. No one is above the law,” he added.

Concerns over the eruption of violence

According to the Ivorian NGO Indigo, which deployed close to 1,000 monitors across 750 polling sites all over the country, “the eruption of political violence at the community level remains, hands down, a main risk factor.”

In a statement, the organisation observed that “the election was marred by violence not conducive to a large voter turnout and optimal voting conditions.”

“The voting process was tarnished by security incidents,” added the NGO, which is financially backed by the National Democratic Institute (NDI). According to Indigo, 23% of the country’s polling stations were shuttered.

“The most greatly impacted districts include Gôh-Djiboua, Lacs, Lagunes, Sassandra-Marahoué, Yamoussoukro and Vallée du Bandama,” the monitors said.

In addition, nearly 6% of polling stations were forced to close before the counting process and the announcement of the results could be completed.

For the time being, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) has announced preliminary results from around 20 departments, chiefly in the north, where Ouattara leads with scores regularly exceeding 90%. The full results are expected to be known by the end of today (2 November).

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