Two weeks before the Ivorian presidential election, we know a little more about the opposition’s strategy. The two tenors Henri Konan Bédié and Pascal Affi N’Guessan held a press conference this Thursday, October 15, at the home of the former president, to call on their activists and voters to an active boycott of the current electoral process. An appeal launched as the official campaign for the October 31 presidential election begins. How do they plan to do it? What do they mean by an active boycott? And to what extent are they able to follow through with their strategy? Neither, however, did not announce their withdrawal from the upcoming ballot. If that happened, there would only be two candidates left for this election: President Ouattara for the Rassemblement des Republicains (RHDP) and Kouadio Konan Bertin said KKB, an independent at odds with the PDCI.
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Active boycott, instructions for use
After having displayed a united front during a big meeting in Abidjan last Saturday, a milestone was therefore crossed by the Ivorian opposition. In the wake of civil disobedience, the active boycott makes its entry. “We invite our activists […] to implement the slogan of active boycott by all the legal means at their disposal, so that the current power consents to convene all the national political forces in order to find acceptable solutions to all the demands ”(from l opposition), launched Pascal Affi N’Guessan of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), who spoke alongside the boss of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI). Weighing in each of his words, the former Prime Minister of Laurent Gbagbo is playing the card of legality and law. The goal is to avoid launching an appeal that would leave the activists on their own and therefore avoid acts of violence or disorder.
He asked the activists to “refrain from participating both in the distribution of electoral cards and in the electoral campaign”, to “block the electoral coup that President Alassane Ouattara s’ ready to commit ”, and“ prevent the holding of any operation related to the poll ”.
Concretely, it is for the partisans of the opposition to prevent “the conveyance and the distribution of any electoral material”, to also prevent “the electoral display” or even “the meetings of campaign”. The slogan also touches the “distribution and withdrawal of voter cards”.
The opposition, which has been casting doubt on a boycott of the presidential election for weeks, has been calling for months: a reform of the Constitutional Council and the Independent Electoral Commission, “subservient” to power, according to it. “The IEC [Commission électorale indépendante, NDLR] is currently single-color since the opposition does not sit there [et] is obsolete because the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, by rulings, has clearly indicated that this IEC does not meet international criteria and that it must be reformed before any election ”once again underlined Pascal Affi N’Guessan, who spoke throughout the press conference.
In any case, the opposition leaders believe that President Ouattara does not have the right to run for a third term and contests the rejection of the candidacies of heavyweights in Ivorian politics, in particular those of the former president. Laurent Gbagbo and the former rebel leader and former prime minister Guillaume Soro.
The unveiling of this strategy comes in a tense context. Many observers fear a pre-election or post-election crisis, ten years after that of 2010-2011, which left 3,000 dead and plunged the country into chaos, after President Gbagbo’s refusal to recognize his electoral defeat against Alassane Ouattara , who is now seeking a controversial third term. Indeed, elected in 2010, re-elected in 2015, Ouattara announced in March that he was giving up running for a third term, before changing his mind in August, after the death of his designated dolphin, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
Ivorian law provides for a maximum of two terms, but the Constitutional Council estimated that with the new Constitution adopted in 2016, the outgoing head of state’s term counter was reset to zero.
About 15 people died in August in violence following the announcement of his candidacy and clashes took place in several localities after the announcement by the Constitutional Council of the list of candidates selected for the ballot.
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Objective, to dialogue?
The Ivorian opposition took a long time to find a common strategy. It all started on September 17 with Guillaume Soro speaking at a press conference in Paris during which he reaffirmed his intention to stay in the race “irrevocably” and called on opposition to unite. A few days later, on the 20th, Henri Konan Bédié called for “civil disobedience”, joined two days later by Pascal Affi N’Guessan.
Things accelerated a few days later, when the opposition held a first big meeting at the Houphouët-Boigny stadium in front of several tens of thousands of people on October 10, to present a united front against Alassane Ouattara. The main highlight is Bédié’s appeal to the Secretary General of the United Nations to “take up the Ivorian file for the establishment of a credible independent electoral body before the presidential election”.
Sign of general concern, the Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the UN dispatched a mission on the spot which expressed its “deep concern”, stressing that “Hate speech with a sense of community has unfortunately entered the field of political competition”. The conflict prevention organization International Crisis Group (ICG) advocates “a short postponement of the election” which “would offer a chance […] to settle the dispute which makes the organization of a peaceful and transparent election on October 31 unlikely ”.
In the meantime, the participation of 7.5 million voters in this country of 25 million inhabitants, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, will be one of the keys to the election. Many observers fear strong abstention in a country where the median age is 18.7 years as the two main candidates have dominated the political scene for 30 years.
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