Tag Archives: Cote d’Ivoire

Grant Godfrey – Takeaways from the legislative elections in Côte d’Ivoire

This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC

The Legislature of the Third Republic of Côte d’Ivoire met for the first time on January 9, 2017, having been elected on December 18.  Two seats remain vacant after the Constitutional Council annulled the polls in Divo and KouiblyThe election results are complete enough, however, to draw some conclusions about what to expect going forward:

  • President Alassane Ouattara will continue to enjoy very few political limits. He succeeded in having his Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and former president Henri Konan Bédié’s Democratic Party (PDCI) present a joint candidate list to voters, as the Houphouëtist Alliance for Democracy and Peace (RHDP). This is a major step toward the re-unification of the two parties after they split in 1994, reinforced by its victory at the polls: the RHDP can already claim 167 of the Assembly’s 255 seats, an overwhelming majority. It need only obtain 3 extra votes to amend the new constitution without a referendum.
  • Pascal Affi N’Guéssan’s leadership of the Ivoirian Popular Front (FPI) is threatened. N’Guéssan has not been able to mobilize former president Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters at the polls. After receiving less than ten percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential race, N’Guéssan hoped to use rebuild the party with legislative success. The FPI hoped to win 30 seats it could use as a base for rebuilding a party starved for a taste of power. The party only achieved a tenth of that goal. Perhaps the biggest shock from these elections is that the FPI will not even be able to form its own parliamentary caucus.
  • There is no public opinion data to explain why the FPI fared so poorly, but the boycott called for by its hard-core wing, which refuses to recognize Affi’s leadership, surely played some role. Expect the “Gbagbo or nothing” hawks to continue to attack the inclusiveness of the Assembly and the legitimacy of Ivoirian elections and democratic institutions. 
  • In the absence of strong party contests in most districts, commentators looked to voter turnout as a key indicator of popular sentiment. The 34% national turnout rate represents a steep decline of voter participation from the constitutional referendum (42%) and presidential poll (53%). The Platform of Civil Society Organizations for Election Observation in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI) once again conducted a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which was able to confirm the national turnout rate and other process indicators. In the south of the country turnout was even lower: POECI calculated a 15% rate in Koumassi, one of four races where it conducted a district-level PVT.
  • POECI and other civic groups continue to garner credibility, and a corresponding degree of influence, for Ivoirian civil society. The Observatory of the Code of Good Conduct, which monitors a voluntary agreement among political parties and candidates to conduct fair campaigns, again denounced violations when they occurred, regardless of who perpetrated them.
  • Voters are (still) dissatisfied with top-down management of the political process by party leaders. The RHDP victory, while resounding, comes with a pair of black eyes.  The low turnout rate and the victory of 75 “independent” candidates (29% of the Assembly seats) send a clear message that voters don’t want RHDP leaders choosing the people’s representatives for them.  Many of the independents are in fact RDR or PDCI figures, including incumbents who found themselves off the RHDP candidate list.  The Cocody race where incumbent Yasmina Ouegnin beat Communications Minister Affoussiata Bamba by over 10% exemplifies this.  Bamba was “parachuted” into the race by RHDP leadership to face Ouegnin after Ouegnin opposed the constitutional revision process.  While many independents are likely to back Ouattara on most issues, or even re-join the RHDP, their success in such phenomenal numbers illustrates weaknesses inherent in the RHDP and underlying party structures. The ruling coalition seems not to have learned from a similar attempt to impose leaders on constituents in the 2013 local elections. This top-down approach to party management is likely to become increasingly hard to sustain as 2020 approaches.
  • Women gain no ground. Despite the new constitution’s emphasis on gender parity, women were only 12% of the candidates in 2016 and won 29 seats, basically holding steady in their parliamentary presence at 11%. The barriers women face to getting on the ballot are compounded by the same opaque party and coalition nomination processes that gave rise to this year’s unprecedented numbers of independents.

Côte d’Ivoire – Newly reelected President Ouattara turns his attention to the question of succession

President Alassane Ouattara was reelected for a second five-year term on October 25, 2015. He won convincingly in the first round of the poll, with 83.7% of the vote. Voter turnout was 52.9%, according to the independent election commission (CEI). Contrary to 2010 where more than 3,000 people lost their lives in post-election related violence, this year’s presidential election was peaceful and the stakes much lower. With former President Laurent Gbagbo at The Hague, awaiting trial, Ouattara ran against a divided opposition and was favored to win. Attention now shifts to preparing for a peaceful succession in 2020.

The major wager in this election was the voter turnout, which in 2010 was more than 80% for both rounds of the presidential race. Some opposition leaders had called for a boycott to protest against “an electoral masquerade,” in their words. A victory with voter participation below 50% would have been somewhat tarnished, as reckoned by former president of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the ECOWAS observation mission to Côte d’Ivoire. The first turnout figure announced by the CEI on October 27th as results were still being counted was “around 60%,” a figure immediately derided by opposition leaders who claimed the number was in the order of 18%. A civil society coalition that did an independent parallel vote tabulation of the electoral process, POECI (Plateforme des organizations de la societe civile pour l’observation des elections en Cote d’Ivoire), found that voter participation was 53%, with an error margin of plus/minus 1.8%. When the CEI announced the election results on October 28th, an error in the final calculations of the turnout rate led the CEI chairman to announce that turnout had been 54.6%, a number that within hours was corrected downward to the final figure – 52.9%.

The drama around the voter participation rate reflects the deep divisions that persist within Côte d’Ivoire, rooted in political exclusion and an ongoing battle for power between three key leaders – Ouattara, Gbagbo and former President Henri Konan Bedie – since the death of founding father Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993. Despite five years of sustained economic growth during President Ouattara’s first term, little has been done to heal the wounds left by the post-election violence in early 2011 that saw civil warfare in the streets of Abidjan. The three leaders represent Côte d’Ivoire’s three major political parties, the FPI (Gbagbo), the PDCI (Bedie) and the RDR (Ouattara). In Gbagbo’s absence, Affi Nguessan ran as candidate representing a faction of the FPI. Bedie had declined to stand and for the PDCI to present a candidate, supporting Ouattara instead as part of a broader coalition – the RHDP (le Rassemblement de houphouetistes pour la democratie et la paix). Some PDCI stalwarts contested this decision and decided to run as independents instead. With Gbagbo and Bedie not in the running, the real test of Ouattara’s legitimacy lay in the degree to which voters would actually chose to participate in the vote.

With a respectable 50%+ voter turnout rate, President Ouattara now has the mandate to move forward with political reforms that could help heal the rifts among Ivorians and pave the way for a peaceful succession at the end of his second and last term in 2020. Ouattara has indicated that constitutional reform will be an immediate priority. Notably, he wants the infamous article 35 of the constitution removed, which states that to be eligible, both of a candidate’s parents have to be “of Ivorian origin”. This was article was thus worded in an expressed effort to exclude Ouattara himself from standing for election in 2000, when the constitution was adopted. Another possible change is the introduction of the position of vice-president in Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential constitution.

Succession is squarely on Ouattara’s mind: “Je ne pense qu’a cela” (I’m constantly thinking about it). The peaceful transition of power to the next generation would be an important measure of his success at the helm of the state. Introducing a vice-president position could be an attractive means of grooming his successor. Ouattara has even said he could consider stepping down before ending his second term and handing over the reins to a vice-president, if things are going well.

Stabilizing Côte d’Ivoire for the long term would require the development of democratic practices and norms that go beyond patronage (a page from Houphouet-Boigny’s playbook which Ouattara by some accounts has copied). It would require the development of a party system that channels and mediates competing interests, with competing societal programs. Ouattara’s challenge is not just to groom a successor, but to turn the RDR/RHDP coalition into a party/coalition with strong internal democratic norms and practices that can help the rise of a new generation of democrats.

Cote d’Ivoire – President Ouattara and coalition backing in 2015 presidential poll

Will the coalition that brought Alassane Ouattara to victory in the presidential run-off in December 2010 hold as a pre-electoral alliance fielding a single candidate for the October 2015 presidential election? With the political geography and party constellation of Cote d’Ivoire dominated by three major parties, no single party can secure a candidate an outright majority. To be reelected, President Ouattara must enlist the support of a critical mass of the 2010 winning coalition, the Rally of the Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), so-called after former President Félix Houphouët-Boigny who ruled Cote d’Ivoire from independence to his death in 1993.

On February 28th, Ouattara won the support of his most important ally, the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire – African Democratic Rally (PDCI-RDA), in his bid for re-election. In an extraordinary PDCI-RDA party congress, an overwhelming majority of participants voted in favor of supporting Ouattara as the single RHDP candidate for the upcoming presidential race. The PDCI-RDA is the party of former President Henri Konan Bédié who came in third in the first round of the 2010 presidential poll. The PDCI-RDA is a member of the RHDP together with Ouattara’s Rally of the Republicans (RDR) and two smaller parties, the Union for Democracy and Peace in Cote d’Ivoire (UDPCI) and the Movement of the Forces for the Future (MFA).

The UDPCI already declared its support for Ouattara at its party congress in December 2013, while the MFA is still holding out on backing Ouattara as the sole RHDP candidate for the fall election.  MFA chairman Anaky Kobena recently announced the question will come up for a vote at a party congress in April. Kobena has complained of the MFA being excluded from cabinet and other government positions, contrary to the other members of the RHDP-alliance: a PDCI member has served as prime minister since March 2012, while UDPCI chairman Mabri Toikeusse is Minister of Planning and Development since June 2011.

The single candidate issue has created divisions within some RHDP-member parties. Within the PDCI-RDA, a group of party leaders, including former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Essy Amara, former deputy speaker of parliament Jérôme Kablan Brou and member of parliament Bertin Kouadio Konan – nicknamed the “Club of Four” – oppose Bédié’s backing of Ouattara. The four boycotted the recent party congress and have declared their intent to present a joint platform. In the MFA the issue has been the opposite – a break-away faction in opposition to Kobena has since 2013 declared its support for Ouattara’s candidacy and threatens to divide the party in two. The UDPCI and the RDR are the only two parties within the alliance where the single candidature is non controversial.

The leading opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) of former President Laurent Gbagbo is also suffering from internal factionalism. While FPI chairman Affi N’Guessan wants to run, other FPI leaders insist on the freeing of Gbagbo currently on trial at The Hague as a precondition for the FPI participating in the October election.

The RDR, the PDCI-RDA and the FPI are the three major parties in Cote d’Ivoire, aligned with the country’s three political heavyweights – Ouattara, Bédié and Gbagbo, respectively. In the 2010 presidential poll, Gbagbo won 38% of votes in the first round, followed by 32% for Ouattara and 25% for Bédié. With Bédié’s backing, Ouattara went on to win the run-off with 54% against Gbagbo’s 46%. In 2015, with the support of Bédié and the UDPCI, and with the FPI divided, Ouattara seemingly stands a good chance of reelection, even if the PDCI-RDA and the MFA should split. However, should the FPI decide to boycott and Affi not run, it remains to be seen which candidate(s) would gain the support of FPI voters.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Côte d’Ivoire – Significant progress in dialogue and reconciliation

The violence that followed former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after his defeat in the 2010 presidential election left 3,000 people dead and deep scars in the Ivorian social fabric. Gbagbo is now awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, while his party, the Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien – FPI) is considering its options.  The FPI boycotted legislative and local polls held in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and therefore lacks formal representation in elected office. The FPI has also refused to participate in the Permanent Dialogue Framework (Cadre Permanent de Dialogue – CPD), a forum where the government periodically discusses substantive issues with the opposition.

Real progress on reconciliation only started recently, with the release on bail of 14 Gbagbo loyalists on the eve of Côte d’Ivoire’s national day, August 7th, 2013. The prisoners released included Gbagbo’s son Michel and the chairman of the FPI, Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Shortly after assuming office in 2011, President Alassane Ouattara had established a Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission Dialogue, Verité et Réconciliation – CDVR), headed by former Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny. The CDVR struggled, however, to start its work and has thus far had little impact on the reconciliation process. The Commission was recently mandated to continue its work for another year.

With presidential elections in October 2015 fast approaching, the government has multiplied its good-will gestures toward the FPI and Gbagbo-supporters.  The first direct meeting between Affi N’Guessan and former Prime Minister Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou – mandated by President Ouattara to lead dialogue with the opposition – took place on January 15, 2014 and lasted a full three hours. This despite  a public statement by Affi N’Guessan only 8 days prior, declaring Ouattara ineligible to be a candidate in 2015 because of doubts on his nationality. To which the ruling party spokesperson retorted that the FPI wants to revive an old debate, qualifying Affi N’guessan as “a prisoner of war on temporary bail.”

Despite lingering tensions between the FPI and the ruling Rally of the Republicans of Côte d’Ivoire (Rassemblement des Républicains de Côte d’Ivoire – RDR), reconciliation initiatives have recently picked up speed. Late January, nearly 1,300 members of the Ivorian armed forces who had been in voluntary exile returned from Ghana and Liberia, following government guarantees for their safety and an FPI-mission to Accra who met with Gbagbo-supporters in exile there. Reportedly, the number of refugees in Liberia has fallen to 52,000, down from 220,000 three years ago. In early February, 2014, the government announced plans to free another 60 prisoners, with about 700 remaining prisoners still awaiting trial or bail. And on February 6th, Affi N’Guessan met for the first time with Banny and assured him that the FPI is willing and ready to support the CDVR’s efforts of national reconciliation.

The situation appears ripe and the political context conducive for more substantive dialogue on issues of electoral reform in preparation for 2015. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) was invited by the Ivorian government to support such reform efforts and fielded an international delegation in December 2013 that met with leaders across the political spectrum and will issue its recommendations in the coming weeks. Priority reform measures include reconfiguration of the independent election commission and updating of the voters list.

President Ouattara has already announced his intention to stand for reelection. The participation of the FPI in a peaceful presidential poll in 2015 would provide the newly elected president with the legitimacy required to heal a country that has been deeply divided since the death of its first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in 1993.