After weeks of speculation, President Alassane Ouattara has confirmed that he will stand as the candidate for Côte d'Ivoire’s ruling RHDP party, taking the place of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who passed away suddenly last month. Opposition parties claim Ouattara’s announcement is a violation of the Ivorian constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. But the RHDP argues the constitution adopted in 2016 effectively reset Ouattara’s term limits, so his first term didn’t count.
Though this decision is seemingly an about-face from prior statements made by the incumbent, Ouattara had warned that should Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié run as candidates he would consider seeking a third term.
Bédié was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, and implemented changes to the country’s constitution that barred Ouattara from running for president in 1995 and 2000. The changes stipulated that both parents of a presidential candidate must be of Ivorian birth, which Ouattara and his supporters said was designed to specifically exclude him given that one of his parents was rumored to be from Burkina Faso. Another stipulation that barred him from running was the prohibition of ever having claimed citizenship of another country; Ouattara held Burkinabe citizenship for a while.
Ouattara was formally granted Ivorian citizenship in 2002, and in 2004 the National Assembly voted in favor of changing the constitution to specify that Ivorians with at least one parent who was Ivorian at birth would be allowed to contest presidential elections. The change was not immediately ratified, however, but was finally adopted in the 2016 constitution.
A Third Candidate
As for Gbagbo, his refusal to step down after the 2010 elections was one of the catalysts for the Ivorian Civil War, which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), declared former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan as its candidate. Both the FPI and Bédie’s party, the PDCI, declared they would run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second-round runoff.
The election is set to be held on October 31, 2020.