An air of fear and uncertainty looms large over the presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire as the country struggles to shake off its turbulent past.
Numerous factors are critical in determining whether the elections have a peaceful or violent outcome for a country that has lived through two civil wars this century. The first bout of conflict lasted between 2002 and 2007. The second ravaged the country from 2010 to 2011.
This history is affecting the mood in the country in direct as well as indirect ways.
The foremost direct effect is the question of the legitimacy of presidential candidates. These include two principal actors in the country’s past armed conflicts – Laurent Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro. Both are on the ballot, even though they’re both living abroad to avoid incarceration.
Gbagbo is currently living in exile in Belgium. The former president was acquitted of charges of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. But he remains under legal proceedings in Côte d’Ivoire, where he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Soro, the former president of the National Assembly, was also tried in absentia and also sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Given the roles each of these men played in the civil wars that plagued the country in the past, their reemergence as presidential candidates is capable of reviving old divisions and animosities. These are capable of threatening the peace and development that the country has enjoyed since the end of the war.
Further complicating the tense political atmosphere – as evidenced by many protests which have already claimed some lives – is the fallout from President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to renounce his pledge not to run for a third five-year term.
Gbagbo lost to Ouattara in the 2010 election and had to be forcibly removed after refusing to hand over to the winner.
The question on everyone’s mind is: can the country’s fledgling democracy withstand these pressures? Or could tensions between political actors, and the lack of a substantive reconciliation since the last civil war which ended in 2011 after claiming the lives of more than 3,000 people, trigger a regression into conflict once again?
Lack of consolidation
The democratic nature of electoral competition is yet to be consolidated in Côte d’Ivoire.
This is apparent from two angles.
The first is the heated political discourse which shows that the political parties are positioning themselves for a decisive confrontation. Rivals tend to be seen as enemies rather than adversaries. This gives the impression that the country is in a winner-take-all logic where electoral failure is not considered by any of the sides.
The second is continued lack of consensus around the role of the Independent Electoral Commission. The reform of the commission – endorsed by the National Assembly in 2019 – is not to the liking of the opposition, which considers it biased insofar as the president has appointed people close to him at its head.
The contestation has found its way into the courts. The NGO Actions pour la Protection des Droits Humains (Actions for Protecting Human Rights) filed suit with the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in 2014 against the government regarding the unbalanced composition of the members of the commission. The court issued a decision in the NGO’s favour.
A new decision by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights on reforming the commission has not resolved the dispute but calls on the various actors to continue political dialogue from less ideological standpoints.
A quick compromise between electoral stakeholders must be found on the issue of composition of the 15 members of local electoral commissions. The same is true of the other elements of the electoral normative framework, such as the Constitutional Council and the electoral code.
What’s at stake
The elections have some implications for the country’s economic fortunes. According to the World Bank, Côte d’Ivoire enjoyed a growth rate of 7.4% in 2018 and 7.2% in 2019. This ranks the country only second to Ethiopia in terms of growth on the continent.
This could evaporate if the country can’t reach consensus around the election. That includes, even at this late stage, the question of a postponement. It also includes resolving logistical organisation of the election as well as the disagreements on the powers and composition of the Independent Electoral Commission.
The Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, along with civil society groups, has issued calls for a postponement, warning that “the political climate is tense”.
Pre-election, election-related and post-election violence are not inevitable. It will all depend on the will of the various political actors who are free to choose peace or violence. They can choose to settle their disputes either through legal and institutional channels, or through extra-institutional channels that lead to violence.
Hopefully, the choice made will be in the interests of peace for the country.
Opposition leaders in Ivory Coast have called for a “civilian transition” from President Alassane Ouattara’s government, as official results showed the incumbent taking a commanding early lead in his controversial bid to secure a third term in an election that has been marked by deadly violence.
Ouattara won all 20 of the districts that were announced from Saturday’s vote by the electoral commission. Results from the other 88 districts are expected to be announced later on Sunday or early Monday.
The president has been expected to win re-election after his opponents called for a boycott of the vote in protest of what they say is an illegal bid to hold onto power. Ouattara says the approval of a new constitution in 2016 means he is not violating a two-term limit.
The dispute led to violence in the lead-up to the polls that killed more than 30 people. At least five more people died in clashes on election day in the centre of the country, officials said on Sunday.
The unrest has stoked fears of a repeat of the electoral violence that had engulfed the country nearly a decade ago. The 2010 election standoff led to months of fighting that left more than 3,000 people dead after then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner.
In a joint statement on Sunday, opposition candidates Henri Konan Bedie, a former president, and ex-Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan said on Sunday that about 30 people had died since Saturday, without providing details.
“Opposition parties and political groups call for the start of a civilian transition,” Affi N’Guessan told reporters, urging supporters to mobilise.
He said they rejected the election and believed Ouattara’s mandate was over, adding that fewer than 10 percent of people had turned up to vote, without providing evidence.
There are no official estimates yet of turnout, but a domestic observer mission said 23 percent of polling places did not open at all because of opposition interference that included barricading roads and threatening election staff.
Later on Sunday, the governing party warned “Affi N’Guessan and his cohorts against any attempt at destabilisation”.
Ouattara said on Saturday that the election went ahead with only isolated incidents and his party added it expected him to be declared the winner.
Scattered unrest, vandalised voting materials and some closed polling stations were reported mostly in opposition strongholds during the election.
Opposition leaders on Saturday already dismissed the election as a failure and several opposition figures, including exiled former rebel chief Guillaume Soro, announced they no longer recognised Ouattara as president.
Earlier this year, Ouattara had said after his second term he planned to make way for a new generation, but the sudden death of his chosen successor in July prompted him to seek a third term.
SOURCE : AL JAZEERA
After the recent local elections in Benin, a landslide victory for the incumbent Patrice Talon in 2021 seems inevitable
Benin has gone to the polls. Local elections were held across the country on 17 May to elect the 1,815 councillors who will lead the 77 communes for the next five years. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, almost half of registered voters cast ballots, a slightly lower turnout than in the previous elections. Opposition parties having been barred from standing in the 2019 parliamentary elections no longer played a role in this ballot.
The governing parties ‘Union Progressiste’ (UP) and ‘Bloc Républicain’ (BR) emerged as the clear winners, securing just under three quarters of votes cast. In third place came ‘Forces Cauris pour un Bénin Emergent’ (FCBE) on 15 per cent of votes, a party that had practically broken itself apart during party infighting that played out in public in the run up to the election. Its sponsor Boni Yayi, the current President Patrice Talon’s predecessor, turned his back on the party a few weeks ago citing ‘betrayal’. The modest election result stripped the FCBE of half of its seats. The other two parties that stood in the elections will not send any representatives to the councils as they failed to reach the 10 per cent threshold. This newly introduced threshold makes it impossible for groups concentrated in regional strongholds but that are unpopular nationally to win seats on local councils.
Local election results in a small African country do not usually attract international attention. Nonetheless, a recent amendment to Benin’s electoral law has lent a unique significance to this vote for the presidential elections scheduled for April 2021. In future, anyone wishing to run for this office will require at least 16 supporters, known as ‘sponsors’ – i.e. 10 per cent of all MPs in the National Assembly (83 members) and the mayors (77 incumbents).
Even if the FCBE succeeds in having its candidates elected as mayors in seven municipalities and helps build coalitions in another 17, aspiring presidential candidates will likely find it difficult to scrape together enough sponsors. The 83 MPs from the UP and BR and the hand-picked candidates for top jobs in regional and local governments stand united behind ‘their’ president. Support for a rival is unlikely to materialise.
The presidential election 2021
On top of this, the government has on past occasions successfully issued court rulings preventing vocal opponents of the president from running as candidates. It is here worth noting the case of Sebastien Adjavon, an entrepreneur who was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for alleged cocaine smuggling. The conviction has now been overturned by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights but has still not been revoked by Benin. Since then, he has been living in France, where he was granted political asylum a year ago.
The former Prime Minister under Boni Yayis, Lionel Zinsou, who four years ago dared to run against Patrice Talon, was sentenced for allegedly overrunning his election campaign budget last August and barred from standing for public office for five years, forcing him to drop out of the next race. Former minister Komi Koutché, who lives in exile in the United States, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years imprisonment, which will surely prevent him from running for office next year. These actions – at least some of which are legally dubious – have eliminated all notable alternatives who could have challenged the president for his job.
Signs thus point to a landslide victory for the incumbent in 2021. This will likely allow Patrice Talon to follow through with his ambitious programme of reform, which has been stymied somewhat by the economic impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, in his second term until 2026. This also points to persistence – if the government manages to maintain social harmony and build a national consensus, which have been badly shaken recently by increasing pressure on civil liberties.