Last Thursday, Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara announced his plans for a third term. Despite his announcement in March that he would not seek re-election, he declared that the death of his preferred successor, then-Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly in July, and his party’s request to reconsider, prompted him to change his position. He has governed the Ivory Coast since 2011. Following his election victory between 2010 and 2011, civil war emerged when his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to relinquish power, killing around 3,000 people and displacing over 500,000. The upcoming election is considered the “greatest test yet of the tenuous stability achieved” since the outbreak of war. Ouattara’s opponents deem his run as unconstitutional, citing Article 183 of the 2016 Constitution, which places a limit to two consecutive terms. On the other hand, the President and the Rassemblement des Houphouetistes pour la Democratie et la Paix (RHPD) argue that adoption of a new constitution implies a new government with no history or past rulers, making him eligible.
In his speech, Ouattara recalled his responsibilities. Given his “previous promise”, his new decision represents a “true sacrifice” for which he takes full responsibility. Supporters from the Abobo area believe voting for alternative choices is “going backwards”, insisting there is “no youth to take over”. Coulibaly, handpicked by Ouattarra, was the only capable young contender. President Ouattarra’s opposition resents his decision to run for re-election. His comments in March were observed as a solemn vow that respected the presidency. In an interview with RFI, executive secretary of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), Maurice Kakou Guikahue, expressed contempt at what she feels to be deception from Ouattara’s vow, saying she was “cheated on”. Moussa Toure, director of communications for Guillaume Soro, a previous former prime minister under Ouattarra, told RFI, “We expected better from a head of state such as Alassane Ouattarra. By standing as a candidate, he is violating the Constitution of Cote d’Ivoire”. According to France 24, former president and 2020 presidential candidate, Henri Konan Bedie, called Ouattarra’s candidacy “illegal”.
Ouattarra’s re-election decision holds various implications. Opponents regard it as dishonoring a promise and threatening democracy. He asserts that the new constitution applies to the time following, not preceding, its adoption, after his previous two mandates. If he and his party focused more on developing more candidates to replace him, instead of one, perhaps the president would not have needed to renege on his re-election promise. Nonetheless, his re-election should be permitted. He is wisely using the adoption of the new constitution during an election year as a loophole to qualify himself. Perhaps, if a new constitution was not adopted, there would be less ambiguity about his eligibility. His opponent, Laurent Gbagbo, who caused a civil war by refusing to relinquish power in 2010, poses a large threat for conflict. It is also important to remember that Bodie was unable to prevent election violence during his reign. Given the conflict Gbagbo has caused, and that President Ouattarra’s re-election was the first peaceful election since 1994, the Ivoirien people should be allowed to decide whether the bigger threat for conflict is his eligibility for a third term, or the return of previous rulers who could not reduce violence.
The 2010 election was controversial. Despite the Electoral Commission’s recognition of Ouattarra’s victory, Gbagbo rejected the results, alleging fraud. International agencies like the United Nations recognized Ouattarra’s victory, while the Constitutional Council rejected it, claiming election obscurities. They discounted votes for Ouattarra, ruling in favor of Gbagbo. Despite pressure from the United Nations, the World Bank and Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), Gbagbo refused to concede, starting a civil war. Fighting intensified between rebels supporting Ouattarra and Gbagbo’s military forces. After capturing most of the country, the rebels surrounded Gbagbo’s residence. Despite his aides’ declaration of a cease-fire and negotiations for terms of departure, Gbagbo maintained authority, and ordered military troops to attack. In response, the rebels overtook his residence and arrested him, ending his reign. Candidate Ouattarra was officially crowned as president of the Ivory Coast.
While future generations may reflect on Ouattarra’s choice as illegal, the implications of a former president like Gbagbo, who disrespected the electoral process and caused civil war and displacement, being allowed to run for president must also be considered. If one candidate, but not the other, is allowed to run, their supporters may revolt against perceived injustice, causing more conflict. The voters should decide the fate of President Ouattarra’s re-election.
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