During a joint rally of several opposition parties on 20 September, presidential candidate Henri Konan Bedie (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI) called upon his supporters to engage in a civil disobedience campaign to protest President Alassane Ouattara’s intention to run for a third term. The opposition parties also formulated several conditions for their participation in the 31 presidential election, including the dissolution of the electoral commission and the constitutional council. As neither will be conceded by Ouattara, this adds to the prospects of an electoral boycott by the main opposition parties. But regardless of how the vote itself plays out, developments in recent months have demonstrated that the deep divide among the political class will persist beyond election day, casting a shadow on the country’s long-term political stability.
Bedie was joined by representatives of the exiled Laurent Gbagbo (leader of the ‘Gbagbo ou rien’ wing of the Ivorian Popular Front, FPI-GOR) and Guillaume Soro (Generations and Peoples in Solidarity, GPS), as well as the leaders of several smaller parties. However, the other two officially recognized presidential candidates, Pascal Affi N’Guessan (leader of his own FPI wing, FPI-Affi) and Konan Bertin Kouadio (Independent, former member of Bedie’s PDCI) remained absent. This suggests that, even if Bedie were to push through with an election boycott, Ouattara would probably not run unopposed but have N’Guessan and Kouadio as fig leaves – as was already the case in 2015.
Bedie’s two-pronged strategy of mobilizing his forces on the one hand and entertaining the idea of an election boycott on the other echoes Soro’s approach, which the latter unveiled on 17 September in Paris. While insisting on being a legitimate candidate, despite his exclusion by the constitutional council, Soro equally cautioned against participating in the election as it would only legitimize Ouattara’s controversial third term. As both Bedie and Soro have now exhorted their supporters to increase their level of street agitation, albeit in a rather unspecific fashion, the next couple of days will provide the final test of the opposition’s capability to cause major disruption in the context of the vote. Since Ouattara’s August announcement to run again, the frequency and intensity of street protests has been very limited.
But even though, as analyzed previously, an escalation strategy on the part of the opposition would have little chance to succeed in the short term, there is a longer-term problem that will persist beyond election day: ten years after the 2010/11 electoral crisis, the political class remains deeply divided and evidently unable to reconcile. It would require a sharp reversal of course by all main protagonists following the vote in order to solve this underlying problem and latent source of instability.