While the opposition managed to pull off its largest mass gathering yet on 10 October, it still lacks a joint strategy, and its messaging remains weak. As it stands, neither of the main opposition candidates is prepared to step down and endorse a consensus candidate ahead of the presidential election’s first round on 31 October. Meanwhile, a last-minute election boycott also remains on the cards. Both scenarios would work in favor of the incumbent, but especially a boycott would not bode well for Cote d’Ivoire’s long-term stability.
On 10 October, the opposition rallied 40,000 supporters in an Abidjan stadium. For the first time, the event brought together leaders from 17 opposition parties and their supporters, including from the two hostile branches of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI). Yet neither opposition leader used the occasion to make any major announcement. Accordingly, both Henri Konan Bedie (Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, PDCI) and Pascal Affi N’Guessan (FPI-Affi) will remain presidential candidates, while Bedie also missed the opportunity to expand on his 20 September call for ‘civil disobedience.’ Instead, Bedie issued a rather desperate plea to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to intervene and ensure free elections.
Indeed, the playing field may well be tilted in favor of the incumbent, and numerous strategies discussed earlier could secure Ouattara an unfair advantage. Nevertheless, at its core, Cote d’Ivoire remains a three-party political system. As per the 2010 first-round results (the most useful comparison for this election), Ouattara polled merely 32%, against Bedie’s 25% and Gbagbo’s 38% (cf. map below). Meanwhile, the majority of eligible voters resides in the centre and the south, where the opposition has its strongholds, even though Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) made major inroads there in the 2018 regional and municipal elections.
Against this background, toying with a last-minute election boycott may well be interpreted as a scapegoat strategy to disguise the opposition’s own failure to form a united front. Both scenarios would inevitably benefit Ouattara, at least in the short term. However, an election boycott by the key parties – Kouadio Konan Bertin, a former PDCI member, is the only official opposition candidate who would still be prepared to run – would potentially recreate a political vacuum as in 1995. Back then, Ouattara’s and Gbagbo’s parties had opposed electoral rules deemed unfair and boycotted presidential polls that saw Bedie re-elected with 96% of votes cast. Yet the lack of legitimacy cast a shadow over Bedie’s second term, which ended prematurely with a coup d’etat in 1999.