Côte d’Ivoire: An Election Delay for Dialogue

In Côte d’Ivoire, tensions surrounding the presidential election of 31 October have raised fears of a violent confrontation between the three political forces that have been vying for power since 1995. These tensions have resulted in at least fourteen deaths since mid-August. The authorities’ clampdown has temporarily restored calm to the country, but disputes between the government and the opposition mean that a peaceful race with a result accepted by all parties is unlikely to take place. This election was supposed to be an opportunity to end a longstanding crisis and hand over power to a new generation. Instead, two figures who have been at the heart of the crisis for a quarter-century will pit against each other: President Alassane Ouattara and an ex-president, Henri Konan Bédié. A third figure, Laurent Gbagbo, is excluded from the election but nonetheless very present; the dispute is partly about his exclusion. There is still time to prevent history from repeating itself and to postpone the election in order to allow the opposing sides to agree on basic electoral rules. On 6 August, President Ouattara announced his candidacy for a third term, shaking a political scene still marked by the deep divisions of the 2010 election, which have remained entrenched despite an improved economy. The announcement was all the more ill received by the opposition since earlier in 2020, Ouattara had claimed that he would not stand for re-election because he wished to “hand over power to a new generation”. His candidacy came on top of existing disagreements over the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the exclusion from the electoral process of former President Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro due to contested legal proceedings. On 14 September, the Constitutional Council decided to validate Ouattara’s candidacy – which the opposition says is unconstitutional – while rejecting Gbagbo’s and 39 other candidacies of the 44 proposed. As a result, on 20 September the opposition called for “civil disobedience”. It is difficult to imagine how, in such a climate of confrontation and mistrust, an election could take place smoothly on 31 October and how all parties could accept its results. Côte d’Ivoire should postpone the election, even for a short period, and organise a political dialogue to resolve the dispute. These objectives are ambitious, but they are the best way to stop the country from plunging into another episode of violence.