With barely three days to go until Ivorians are called to vote on a new constitution, opposition parties have called on their supporters to boycott the plebiscite because of what they perceive to be an uneven playing field and an over-centralisation of power by the executive.
One of the key campaign promises that led to the re-election of President Alassane Ouattara in October 2015 was his pledge to amend the current constitution of the West African nation. True to his promise, the president appointed a team of experts which includes Justice Minister Sansan Kambile to draft an amended constitution for onward parliamentary approval and a nationwide referendum.
On 11th October, 2016, the National Assembly approved the draft constitution with an overwhelming vote in favour of it- 239 out of 249 voted "yes"; and the document was made public the following day.
Key Proposed Constitutional Reforms
- Article 35, the "nationality clause" of the 2000 constitution - which had been at the heart of Cote d'Ivoire's political instability at various points over the last two decades- has been expunged. The draft constitution removes the requirement that both a presidential candidate's father and mother must be Ivorian1. This clause hindered Ouattara from contesting for president in 1995 and 2000.
- Article 55 of the amended constitution creates a new position of vice-president. Under this arrangement, the president will choose both a vice-president and a prime minister.
- In Article 87 of the new constitution, a second legislative chamber will be established. Members of senate will be drawn from local authorities, Ivorians living abroad and experts from diverse fields. The president has the prerogative to appoint one-third of the senate.
- The new constitution does away with the age limit for presidential candidates and lowers the minimum age limit from 40 to 35 years.
The proposed constitutional amendments have generated stiff
opposition from some quarters. A number of opposition parties under
the Alliance of Democratic Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (AFD)
– a representation of 12 opposition parties including the
Popular Ivorian Front (FPI) and the Ivorian Workers Party (PIT)-
called for a boycott of the referendum on 14th October, 2016.
According to Pascal Affi N'guessan, former PM, 2015
presidential aspirant and head of the FPI, the draft constitution
merely represents the desires of one man- Ouattara. In expressing
their frustration, opposition parties staged a demonstration in the
commercial capital of Abidjan on 20 October 2016. The protest was
dispersed by the police with the use of tear gas and some leaders
of the opposition coalition were arrested2. One such
figure was Mamadou Koulibaly who said, "We came here
democratically to say no to this constitution, and Mr Ouattara is
throwing us in prison. He can keep doing this but we will also
Some of the main grievances of the opposition are:
- Ivoirete: The removal of the clause requiring that both parents of a presidential aspirant must be Ivorian is of direct consequence to Ouattara, one of whose parents (at least) was Burkinabe. He would have been prevented from holding the presidency were it not for the suspension of this stipulation under the Linas-Marcoussis agreement, which brought an end to the 2002-3 civil war.
- Strengthening Executive: The creation of the vice presidential position as well as an upper chamber of parliament- of which one third of its members would be presidential appointees- has engendered concern that Ouattara is seeking to annex more power to the executive. Some believe that if he were to leave office before his term expires, then he could ensure that one of his allies- such as Guillaume Soro (currently at the helm of the legislature) – could rise from VP to president seamlessly.
- Unequal Playing Field: The opposition maintains that there was not enough time to campaign, as official campaigning began on 22 October. It also claims that it had limited access to resources (indeed there was no state funding for political parties, in contrast with the 2015 presidential polls), state media, and the suspension of two opposition-leaning newspapers just before the campaign period began demonstrated the tight controls which were in place. Human Rights Watch Associate Africa Director, Caroline Dufka said: "Political parties and all Ivoirians have the right to express their views on the new draft constitution...The government should ensure that both those in favor of the new text, as well as those against it, can make their voices heard4."
The opposition parties have been vocal in their grievances about the proposed constitution and in all likelihood, that message will resonate with a cross-section of the population, particularly given that there was little time allotted for the sensitization. The build-up to the referendum put the government's commitment to some democratic principles into question, as reports suggest a clamp-down on protestors and unequal access to the media. But the post-referendum era will also likely come with its own set of challenges. If passed, the new constitution which was meant to bring reconciliation, may well alienate some quarters of the population as the hand of government becomes stronger. Coupled with this is the nagging ethnicity issue which has been such a sore point for the nation over the last two decades, as the government will have to find ways of balancing the rights of both the indigenous and the immigrant communities in order to avoid disunity.
1. Article 35 of the 2000 constitution
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