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September 2, 2020

Africa

COTE D’IVOIRE: Consolidation of presidential candidates list spells trouble

BY Malte Liewerscheidt

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Following the end of the registration period for presidential candidates on 31 August, the electoral commission will hand over the application files of 40 candidates to the constitutional council for vetting this week. It remains to be seen how many would-be candidates have provided enough valid signatures to back up their aspirations. Nevertheless, the constitutional council is expected to strike out the applications of former president Laurent Gbagbo (Ivorian Popular Front, FPI) and Guillaume Soro, the former president of the national assembly. The publication of the final candidate list, scheduled for 15 September, will thus provide a focal point for public protests and, as such, a foretaste of the level of violence to be expected in the run-up to the 31 October election.

For the first time, would-be candidates have been required to present signatures of 1% of registered voters in 17 of Cote d’Ivoire’s 31 regions alongside their application. As collecting signatures across the country requires a certain level of organization which independent and fringe party candidates mostly lack, it is highly likely that the constitutional council will disqualify numerous applicants on this premise.

Meanwhile, the council, whose members are deemed mostly loyal to President Alassane Ouattara, is highly unlikely to take issue with questions pertaining to the legality of Ouattara’s third-term bid. On the other hand, the council is virtually guaranteed to throw out Gbagbo’s and Soro’s applications, respectively, which had been deposited by loyalists as publicity stunts. Both have been sentenced by Ivorian courts to 20 years in absentia and, as such, forfeited their active and passive right to vote.

The official exclusion of two key opposition figures is thus highly likely to trigger violent protests by Gbagbo and Soro supporters when the final list is published, which is expected for 15 September. Furthermore, it will also provide a final pre-election test of Soro’s remaining support among the armed forces and the potential of loyalists to stage a mutiny or worse. However, going by the lack of such a response ever since Soro was forced into French exile in December 2019, the government appears to have largely neutralized Soro’s power base within the army.

Gbagbo’s and Soro’s exclusion would leave the field to former president Henri Konan Bedie (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI) as the main opposition candidate. It seems likely that both Gbagbo and Soro would lend their support to Bedie already in a first round of voting to prevent Ouattara from clinching a narrow first-round victory. However, how many voters they could actually mobilize from their respective Belgian and French exiles in support of Bedie – especially while animosities between PDCI and FPI supporters persist – remains one of the great unknowns of the upcoming vote.

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