Voters in Cote d'Ivoire head to the polls on Sunday 18th December. 1,337 candidates from 39 political groupings (including independents) will compete for 255 positions in 205 constituencies.1 These elections are happening a year ahead of schedule following on from the referendum that was held on a new constitution for the country on 30th October of this year. Domestic, regional and international eyes are keenly watching Cote d'Ivoire to judge how far its democracy has evolved following the post-election conflict that struck the country in 2010.
Following on from the large-scale unrest that crippled the country in 2010-11, the Ivorian economy has rebounded well, with the IMF describing it as 'impressive2', although the nation's human development indicators require attention. The security situation is mostly stable – indeed, the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire is preparing to retreat fully by 30 June 2017 – although earlier this year the country was exposed to a terrorist incident in which the expatriate community was targeted. Nevertheless, there is the general sense that people are settling back in to their daily routines – including protesting without fear of reprisal.3
The first major test to the robustness of the nation's democracy since the 2010 conflict was the presidential election that was held in October 2015. A boycott by members of the opposition Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) due to the ongoing trial of their former leader Laurent Gbagbo & internal struggles4 resulted in a low turnout and a landslide victory for the incumbent Alassane Ouattara of the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR - part of the RHDP alliance). Following on from that, a referendum was called on whether to adopt a proposed new constitution. This vote followed the same pattern with an opposition boycott5 and landslide acceptance of the proposal. Whilst both votes were largely peaceful, the FPI said they did not reflect the true will of the people.
Who are the stakeholders?
There are number of key personalities who will be in the foreground in Sunday's polls.
- First is Youssouf Bakayoko, chair of the Commission Electorale Independante (CEI). He was in this post even prior to the 2010 elections, surprising to many given the outcome of those elections. The opposition is not convinced of his credibility and protested at the announcement of the renewal of his mandate in 2014.6
- Guillaume Soro is the current leader of the National Assembly. He has previously acted as prime minster to both Gbagbo and Ouattara as well as leading the 2002 rebellion that led to a civil war. An arrest warrant was issued by Burkina Faso for him for his alleged involvement in the 2015 coup before being dropped.7 He has pledged his allegiance to Ouattara should he win his seat.8
- President Ouattara as head of the RHDP is seeking to unite a movement that has begun to fray around the edges. He has called for a "strong majority" to allow him to accelerate the pace of work he has carried out over the past 5 years.9
- Pascal Affi N'Guessan is the president of the FPI who stood against Ouattara for president in 2015. With the party somewhat in disarray, success in this election is key to his political survival and has said the party is targeting between 30 and 50 seats in the National Assembly.10
Hitting the Campaign Trail
Only one week of campaigning was allowed for these elections so most campaigns were launched on Saturday 10th December. There was some concern as to what would happen given that this is the first election since 2010 with a significant opposition involvement. A coalition of 5 NGOs released a statement highlighting "the strong risk of threats and violence" if certain steps are not taken and rules adhered to.11 However, there have so far been no reports of clashes with even the secretary of the opposition praising the good tone of the campaign so far.12 Campaigns have been focusing mostly on promises of what the candidates will do for their respective areas as opposed to attacks on their opponents. Social media has played a large part in the campaign as many candidates have used various platforms to reach out to younger voters as well as keeping them informed of where and when rallies would be be taking place.13 This has helped to give the impression that the candidates are more accessible to the population that they represent.
What Observers are Saying
The main domestic observer group Plateforme des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l'observation des Elections en Côte d'Ivoire (POECI) has denounced the short duration of the campaign period but stated that a peaceful pre-electoral environment" has prevailed.14 The group will deploy some 1500 observers in all 205 constituencies around the country.15 Another domestic observer group, L'Observatoire du Code de Bonne Conduite des Partis et Groupements Politiques has noted some improprieties, including isolated incidents of bribery, intimidation and verbal threats in various regions of the country.16 There is also a short-term AU observation mission made up of 40 observers on the ground though they are yet to make any statements.17
It is almost a sure bet that the RHDP alliance will emerge victorious in the elections with a clear majority, led by Outtara's RDR. The main question is how many candidates the FDI can get elected and this will hinge on how effective the party is in getting its supporters out to vote (due to the boycott, turnout has not exceeded 55% in the past two elections). The more seats it gets, the more of a thorn it can be in the side of the ruling coalition. The critical figure to look out for is 86 – if the opposition is able to attain this many seats, it will stop the ruling coalition automatically having the two thirds majority it needs to make any further constitutional amendments. While it is unlikely that the FDI can achieve this on its own, it may be able to do so along with some of the smaller opposition parties and independent candidates.
Whatever the final results, we are unlikely to see wholesale
change in the economic prospects of the country. Having a viable
opposition bloc in the National Assembly may mean that there is
more scrutiny on the large scale public spending that is being
undertaken and greater pressure on the government to ensure human
development improves, however. Opposition legislators will also be
fighting to make sure that there is an even distribution of the
spending, not just in government strongholds. What remains to be
seen is whether success for the FPI in this election will help to
reunite the party. There is currently a split with those still very
loyal to Gbagbo, led by Aboudramane Sangare, choosing to boycott
these elections.18 A strong showing and subsequent
parliamentary representation may open the way to reconciliation
between the two factions.
The risk of an escalation of violence will always remain given previous occurrences in the country and the relative tension attached to these elections. However, given the manner in which the campaigns have been carried out so far and the expectation that the ruling coalition will win a large majority, this is not an elevated risk. One possible scenario that could lead to violence is if the FPI were to massively underperform, in which case, it will likely allege foul play which could escalate, depending on the response of the government and the CEI.
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