As expected, the constitutional council this week whittled down the list of candidates for the 31 October presidential election, from 44 to just four. In doing so, the council unsurprisingly confirmed President Alassane Ouattara’s eligibility to run for a third term, while invalidating the candidacies of Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro. The chances of opposition leader Henri Konan Bedie preventing a first-round victory of the incumbent will critically depend on whether the disqualified candidates will now throw their support behind him. Meanwhile, Bedie’s call to boycott participation in local electoral committees is already sowing the seeds for a legal challenge of the election results, even though the effectiveness of such a strategy seem highly doubtful.
The new ‘parrainage’ system has taken its expected toll. Numerous candidates, including former ministers Albert Mabri Toikeusse and Marcel Tanoh, as well as former National Assembly president Mamadou Koulibaly, have been disqualified for missing the required target. Gbagbo’s and Soro’s exclusion had been a foregone conclusion as both had been convicted by Ivorian courts in absentia and, as such, forfeited their right to stand in elections. Meanwhile, the constitutional council followed the president’s logic that the 2016 constitutional reform, while preserving the existing two-term limit, had set the counter back to zero, enabling Ouattara to run again.
Accordingly, the final list of presidential candidates features only four contenders:
- President Ouattara (Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, RHDP)
- Henri Konan Bedie (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI)
- Pascal Affi N’Guessan (Ivorian Popular Front, FPI)
- Konan Bertin Kouadio (Independent, former member of the PDCI)
Both N’Guessan and Kouadio had also been candidates in the 2015 presidential election, scoring 9.3% and 3.9% of the vote, respectively. Bedie garnered 25.2% in his last outing, which was the first round of the 2010 election.
Accordingly, Bedie will need the support of disqualified candidates to mount a credible challenge to Ouattara. While Gbagbo, who scored 38% in 2010, has remained silent on his intentions for now, Soro appears set for an – ultimately pointless – legal fight for his candidacy. In fact, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) ruled on 15 September that his exclusion was illegal and that the government should enable him to run in the upcoming election. However, following Soro’s first appeal to the AfCHPR in April 2020, Cote d’Ivoire declared its withdrawal from the protocol allowing its citizens legal recourse to the court. Soro is expected to clarify his intentions during a press conference in France, scheduled for 17 September. While he has not run in a presidential election thus far, he is popular among the youth and could cost Ouattara important votes across his northern core base.
Meanwhile, Bedie is strongly pushing a message of ‘reconciliation,’ promising to enable Gbagbo’s and Soro’s return should he become president. Furthermore, Bedie declared that his party would not participate in the election of local electoral commissions ahead of the vote, referring to the persistence of an in-built majority in favor of the ruling RHDP. While this lays the groundwork for a legal challenge of the results, the value of such a strategy remains dubious as the members of the constitutional council, which has the final say in these matters, have just proven their loyalty to Ouattara.