Lindsay Robinson – Local and Regional Elections in Côte d’Ivoire: A “Test” for the 2020 National Polls?

This is a guest post by Lindsay Robinson, Program Manager, National Democratic Institute (NDI)

The October 13 local and regional elections in Côte d’Ivoire were widely considered a test run in advance of the higher-stakes presidential and National Assembly elections in late 2020.

The ruling coalition, the Rally of Houphouëtistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), recently saw the departure of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), headed by former president Henri Konan Bédié (1993-99). In 2010, the PDCI backed Alassane Ouattara of the Rally of Republicans (RDR), who went on to win in the second round of the presidential elections against then-incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI). The RHDP was formed in 2005 as a political alliance between the RDR, the PDCI and a number of other, smaller parties. Ouattara’s long-term goal was the creation of a unified RHDP party that would subsume its constituent parties and become the main political force in the country. Bédié’s goal, which he says was agreed upon in 2010, was that a PDCI candidate gain RHDP’s presidential nomination in 2020 once Ouattara’s term was up. Ouattara acknowledges no such deal and wants to see the next candidate come from an internal party primary. This disagreement came to a head in mid-2018 with the official creation of the unified party without the PDCI’s sign-on, and the PDCI’s official withdrawal from the coalition.

Local and regional elections therefore presented the RHDP and PDCI with an opportunity to demonstrate their relative political power across the country, after the split.

So how did they do?

The RHDP was the clear winner. It fielded candidates in nearly every race — for 28 of 31 regional councils and 176 of 200 municipal councils — whereas the PDCI fielded candidates in only 8 and 105 races, respectively. (In two regions, a list was presented as a joint PDCI-RHDP list, despite the official split between the two parties.) RHDP also translated these candidates into more victories; it won 20 regions and 92 local councils, compared with the PDCI’s 8 and 50. (The joint list won in both regions.)

Independent candidates took 3 regional councils and 56 municipal councils. Following the elections, many of them joined one or the other of the two major parties; by October 24, 26 had joined the RHDP and 5 had joined the PDCI. These moves raised allegations of corruption in some quarters, but many of the independent candidates were in reality party members who failed to gain the party backing for candidacy and have now rejoined their original party.

PDCI claims that the distribution of seats is not fair and has called for a redistricting before 2020, saying, “In the north of the country” where RHDP has an advantage, “there are 69 mayors for a population of 469,000 inhabitants, whereas there are 28 mayors for a population of two million inhabitants in the South, where the opposition is stronger.” The graphs below illustrate this discrepancy, which is also exacerbated by the majoritarian electoral system. 1

 

The map below  shows the distribution of regional presidents.

The PDCI is contesting 9 election results in court — while the RHDP is contesting 24. A total of 102 claims have been submitted, significantly fewer than the 187 claims put forward after the 2013 local elections. Two elections were already canceled and will be rerun within the month. Several others, including in the country’s wealthiest commune (Plateau) and in the tourist resort town of Grand Bassam, are making headlines for the allegations of fraud and electoral violence. Five people were killed in areas across the country in election-related violence, including in Daloa, Abobo, Seguéla, and Lakota.

The continued political weight of the FPI is a real question mark. The party has suffered from internal factionalism, and the more “radical” wing of the party headed by Aboudramane Sangaré (until his death on November 3) boycotted these elections, much as they did the local polls in 2013. FPI partisans aligned with Sangaré have said they will not engage in a system they see as stacked against them while the head of their party is at the International Criminal Court for what they see as partisan reasons. Should the party engage in 2020, it is unclear what share of the vote it might attract.

Voter turnout was low — only 36.2% for local elections (a figure that was independently confirmed by the Platform for Election Observation in Côte d’Ivoire – POECI) and 46.36% for regional elections; these numbers were quite similar in 2013. National elections generally draw more voters. This is particularly likely to be the case in 2020 when Ouattara, who is constitutionally term limited, will not be eligible for reelection, and the polls are likely to be highly competitive.

The recent local elections were also a test for the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), and by many accounts there is room for improvement. POECI, which deployed observers to a statistically representative sample across the country, reported that 11% of polling stations failed to have ballot boxes specifically marked to delineate which election’s ballots it should contain (municipal or regional), a potential source of confusion. In around a quarter of polling stations, the biometric voter identification equipment failed at some point during the day and voters were allowed to vote without this verification. Around 19% of polling places did not even have a voter identification kit available. In 6% of the polling stations, observers witnessed incidents of intimidation, harassment or violence.

Conclusion. Many Ivoirian actors, including POECI, other civil society groups, and nearly all opposition political parties (notably PDCI and FPI-Sangaré), have called for broad-based electoral reform. As noted in a past post about Senate elections, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights found in November 2016 that the CEI’s composition was not in conformity with the country’s international commitments to create an impartial body. In August, President Ouattara committed to changing the commission’s composition before the 2020 elections. The success of these reforms will hinge on broad-based and inclusive dialogue. A revised electoral framework that benefits from widespread support and legitimacy will go a long way to reinforcing the credibility of the electoral process and limiting violence around the next elections.

Footnote:

The graphs show the results for heads of list — mayors for local councils and presidents of regional assemblies. The distribution of seats within these bodies is more complicated. The law provides for the party with the most votes to receive half of the council seats, with the remaining half distributed proportionally according to party vote share, including to the majority party.

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