While the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) entered the stage of final preparations for the presidential elections scheduled for 31 October 2020, the internal political crisis in the country worsened, and indications of deteriorating security conditions increased, even as some international pressures increased on the regime to engage in an open dialogue with the opposition to avoid the political situation getting out of control.
This paper deals with the background and stakes in the political situation in Côte d'Ivoire, and monitors its future prospects.
Background of the current political crisis
The decision of the current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara to run for a third presidential term, after having announced his withdrawal from the political scene, constituted a major turning point in the Ivorian political map. On 15 September 2020, the Constitutional Council issued the final list of candidates eligible to participate in the elections by accepting only four candidates from among the papers of 33 political figures who applied for the presidential race. The eligible candidates are: the current President of the Republic Alassane Ouattara, and the former President of the Republic Henri Konan Bédié, in addition to two marginal candidates, namely Pascal Affi N’Guessan, a former prime minister who defected from President Laurent Gbagbo, and Kouadio Konan Bertin, a young and obscure defector from President Bédié’s party.
Thus, the two prominent leaders were excluded, namely former President Laurent Gbagbo, on the pretext of losing his civil rights as a result of the 20-year prison sentence that was issued against him in absentia in the file of the robbery of the headquarters of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), and the former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, who was similarly convicted in April 2020 in a case of administrative and financial corruption, resulting in the deletion of his name from the electoral list. While Gbagbo continues to live under house arrest in Brussels despite his acquittal by the International Criminal Court (ICC) after years of imprisonment and trial, Soro is in exile in Paris, where he maintains wide relations with the media. While the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (AfCHPR) issued a ruling obliging the Ivorian authorities to allow Gbagbo and Soro to participate in the elections, the Ivorian authorities, which withdrew from the Court in April 2020, rejected its decision and considered it an unacceptable and unjustified interference in the country's internal affairs.
A broad front has begun to form against President Alassane Ouattara, led by former President Bédié, and with the participation of a bloc of parties, mainly the Popular Front Party led by Gbagbo, the pro-Soro Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) coalition, and the Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d'Ivoire (UDPCI), led by Albert Toikeusse Mabri, in addition to some trade unions and civil society associations. The demands of this broad coalition revolve around: preventing President Ouattara from running in contravention of the Constitution, restructuring the Constitutional Council and the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), postponing the elections, and preparing for them through an inclusive political dialogue that enables all major figures to participate in the vote. This movement has evolved to the point of the demand by President Bédié for a comprehensive civil disobedience to impose the conditions of the coalition opposed to President Ouattara. Some violent riots have already appeared in some inner cities, killing 14 people and causing a state of widespread anxiety in the country.
Prospects for the Ivorian political scene
The political situation in Côte d'Ivoire appears to be open to many possibilities, which can be summarised in three distinct scenarios:
1. The crisis scenario, whereby the presidential elections would be held on time according to the conditions currently applicable. This would ensure the success of outgoing President Ouattara in the first round of the elections under troubled and controversial circumstances that would repeat the scene of the 1995 and 2010 elections. In this case, the political crisis would worsen, social tension would increase, and the country would enter a phase of turmoil, subjecting it to violent shocks.
2. The scenario of dialogue and reconciliation, which is sought by several regional and international actors, mainly France, the European Union (EU), and some West African countries, such as Senegal and Niger. This scenario requires postponing the elections and opening an inclusive political dialogue that involves the excluded powers and leaders, especially the two leaders Gbagbo and Soro. Among the indications of this scenario are the alleged indirect contacts between Ouattara and both his opponents through some presidents of the region and some French circles, in addition to pressure from the EU and the United Nations (UN) (holding the elections requires a budget of 100 million euros from the funding of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) and the European Commission (EC), both of which have stipulated that an inclusive national dialogue be held to provide the required funding). President Ouattara may delegate to the CEI the decision to postpone the elections for technical reasons, given that it would not be able to distribute more than 500,000 ballot papers out of more than 7 million ballot papers at the current date set for the elections. In the event of postponement and the organisation of the political dialogue, the conflicting leaders may reach a settlement deal to solve the existing political dilemma.
3. The scenario of civil strife and armed conflict in the event of the exacerbation of the political crisis and the inability to hold the elections in a manner that would meet the minimum conditions of consensus and credibility, thus returning the country to the scene of the armed political conflict that it witnessed from 2002 to 2007.
In light of the current data, the chances of the settlement and dialogue scene appear to be the strongest as a result of the domestic and international pressures. However, the crisis scenario remains a strong option in the event of the failure of the multiple mediations between the main political parties, and the insistence by President Ouattara on a unilateral organisation of the elections while betting on the possibility of managing the political crisis after his success in the presidential race.
There is no doubt that the French position would be decisive in determining the direction of the political situation in Côte d'Ivoire. It appears from the current indications that the person closest to the French circles is the current president Alassane Ouattara. Therefore, his continuation in power is considered the best option for the French interests. On the other hand, France opposes any pivotal role for former President Laurent Gbagbo and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. France is expected to seek directly and through the EU to lead a political mediation in Côte d'Ivoire that would allow Ouattara to be re-elected, albeit with power-sharing with other leaders, especially former President Henri Konan Bédié, and to seek to create a new political figure that would be entrusted with managing the next stage.
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