The Path to the Ivoirian Presidential Elections: Past Strife and Current Challenges
Voters in Côte d’Ivoire go to the polls on October 25, 2015, to select their next president. Two women and eight men, including the incumbent, President Alassane Ouattara, are vying for the position. Six of the candidates, including former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, are independents. A moderate arm of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), the political party founded by former president Laurent Gbagbo (who is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court), is represented on the ballot by another veteran politician and former prime minister, Pascal Affi N’Guessan.
This presidential election will be the first since the crisis that followed the country’s 2010–2011 presidential elections. It comes as Côte d’Ivoire is making remarkable economic strides, with an estimated growth rate of 8.3 percent in 2014 and a similar level of growth expected in 2015 and 2016.1 The country was ranked as one of the ten best economic performers in 2014 and 2015 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. Ouattara’s government has also completed several major infrastructure projects, including the Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, which connects the northern and southern sections of Abidjan.
Côte d’Ivoire has made political progress, as well, with a certain level of reconciliation between the major political parties. The government has released some high-ranking Gbagbo supporters, including Affi N’Guessan, who was arrested with Gbagbo during the post-electoral crisis in 2011, and many of Gbagbo’s supporters who were in exile have returned home and are actively trying to strengthen his party, the FPI.
Nonetheless, Côte d’Ivoire continues to face major socioeconomic and political challenges. It is ranked 171 out of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index.2 More than half of its population lives on less than $2 a day, and social problems such as violence against women remain prevalent.
Furthermore, the social and political divisions that contributed to the 2010–11 post-electoral crisis persist. Amnesty International has accused the government of a wave of arbitrary arrests and abuse of opposition supporters.3 Members of the opposition continue to challenge Ouattara’s parentage and, thus, his eligibility to run in the upcoming elections.4 In fact, leaders of a hardline faction of the FPI announced that they were boycotting the polls due to Ouattara’s alleged ineligibility.5 Among other things, they have demanded Gbagbo’s release and the safe return of Ivorian leaders in exile.6 In May 2015, these hardliners, along with several of the presidential candidates, formed the National Coalition for Change (CNC). One of the members of the CNC is Amara Essy, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who suspended his campaign on October 6, 2015. He and other members of the CNC have issued several demands, including equal access to the state media for all candidates and a restructuring of the electoral commission. On October 7, 2015, they gave Ouattara a 48-hour ultimatum to meet with them and address their demands for a transparent election.7
Leaders of the CNC have also rallied their supporters to protest the upcoming polls.8 On September 10, 2015, violent protests in several towns resulted in one death.9 In Gabgbo’s stronghold of Yopougon in Abidjan, protestors set fire to a bus. Furthermore, reports have revealed that pro-Gbagbo militia and mercenaries in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, respectively, remain “highly operational.”10 Their existence and activities, coupled with the presence of ex-combatants who backed Ouattara during the 2010 crisis and are still in possession of weapons, heighten the threat of violence before, during, and after the polls.
Despite these threats, observers do not expect a repeat of the widespread violence that occurred after the 2010 elections.11 The UN and other organizations have been working with political and traditional leaders and with civil society groups to prevent a recurrence. On October 7, 2015, the four candidates not affiliated with the CNC signed the Code of Conduct for electoral candidates. Ouattara is the favorite to win the polls, partly because of the division within the FPI, which is the main opposition party. The presence of another opposition coalition, however, the Alliance of Democratic Forces—of which Affi N’Guessan is a member—prevents a runoff from being ruled out completely.
Whatever the scenario, the next few weeks will see heightened political tensions in Côte d’Ivoire, and key actors, particularly the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), will have to pay close attention to unfolding events. The threats to political stability will also not disappear with the election of a president. The government will have to address the myriad socioeconomic and political problems—particularly the selective application of justice after the post-electoral crisis—that have engendered insecurity and impeded reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire.
- World Bank, Côte d’Ivoire country overview, 2015, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/cotedivoire/overview, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩
- United Nations Development Program, “Human Development Report: Côte d’Ivoire” http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/CIV, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩
- Reuters, “Ivory Coast must end wave of arrests, abuse ahead of polls: Amnesty,” October 5, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/05/us-ivorycoast-election-amnesty-idUSKCN0RZ2J820151005, accessed October 9, 2015. ↩
- All Africa, “Côte d’Ivoire: Fear of Further Clashes with Upcoming Elections,” http://allafrica.com/stories/201509120013.html, accessed September 26, 2015. ↩
- Abidjan.net, “Cacophonie à la CNC: Sangaré Abou Drahamane demande le boycott du recensement electoral,” July 8, 2015, http://news.abidjan.net/h/559050.html, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩
- Coalition Nationale pour le Changement (CNC), “Voici l’intégralité du document qui sera signé par l’opposition le 15 mai 2015,” http://www.civox.net/Coalition-nationale-pour-le-changement-CNC-Voici-l-integralite-du-document-qui-sera-signe-par-l-opposition-le-15-mai_a6362.html, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩
- Abidjan.net, “6 candidats donnent un ultimatum de ‘’48 h’’ à Ouattara pour créer les conditions d’une élection ‘’crédible et transparente’’,” October 8, 2015, http://news.abidjan.net/h/566387.html, accessed October 9, 2015. ↩
- All Africa, “Côte d’Ivoire: Fear of Further Clashes.” ↩
- France 24, “Violent Clashes Erupt Ahead of Ivory Coast Election,” September 11, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20150911-violent-clashes-ivory-coast-election-dead-ouattara-gbagbo, accessed September 24, 2015. ↩
- United Nations Security Council, “Letter Dated 10 October 2014 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1572 (2004) Concerning Côte d’Ivoire Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” October 13, 2014, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/729, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩
- National Democratic Institute, “Côte d’Ivoire,” https://www.ndi.org/cote-divoire?quicktabs_country_page_tabs=0#quicktabs-country_page_tabs, accessed September 25, 2015. ↩