ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term in office violates the constitution and will destabilise a country still recovering from civil war, his opponents said on Friday.
In a speech on Thursday evening, Ouattara went back on an earlier pledge and said he would run in the Oct. 31 election, drawing accusations that he is following in the footsteps of other African leaders who have manipulated constitutions to hang onto power.
Ivory Coast law limits presidential terms to two, but Ouattara says that a new constitution adopted in 2016 acted as a reset button, allowing him to run again.
Even before Ouattara’s announcement, the vote was seen as a stern test of Ivory Coast’s stability. Ouattara’s first win in 2010 sparked a brief civil war that killed about 3,000 people when his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept his loss.
Politicians from that era, including Gbagbo, are still vying for power and influence, which has revived old political tensions.
“President Ouattara is sowing the seeds of the destabilisation of Ivory Coast,” Maurice Kakou Guikaoué, the executive secretary of the opposing Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), told Radio France Internationale (RFI).
A leading civil society coalition called for nationwide protests, but opposition politicians did not, instead suggesting they would use peaceful, democratic means to block Ouattara’s path.
Jean-Louis Billion, another senior official from the PDCI, whose presidential candidate is former President Henri Konan Bedie, told RFI it would be up to the Constitutional Council to determine whether Ouattara could run.
Barring some small, isolated protests, the streets of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan were calm on Friday morning.
Ouattara said he was forced to run and that his decision was not a power grab. His handpicked candidate to represent the ruling party in October, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died unexpectedly last month, leading party members to urge Ouattara to run again.
Ouattara’s tenure has seen relative stability return to Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, while the economy has grown at one of the fastest clips in Africa.
A banking executive said investors view Ouattara, a former senior official with the International Monetary Fund, as someone who could ensure stability.
“With Ouattara, it’s not a leap in the dark. He inspires confidence and that reassures investors,” said the executive, who asked not to be named.
(Additional reporting and writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Hugh Lawson)