As Côte d'Ivoire celebrates its 60 years of independence, President Alassane Ouattara announced that he will seek a third mandate by standing in presidential elections due in three months. The opposition has reacted angrily to what they call an unconstitutional move.
President Alassane Ouattara made the announcement during the traditional speech on the eve of the Côte d'Ivoire's independence day, celebrated on 7 August.
Earlier, on 5 March, while addressing the National Assembly, President Ouattara said that he would not stand for a new mandate.
However, the sudden death of the successor he chose, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, changed everything. The former prime minister passed away on 8 July from a heart failure.
Cote d'Ivoire election preparations in chaos following death of prime minister
In his speech on Thursday, Ouattara said that his decision came as a "force majeure" for which he was willing to bear "a real sacrifice" for the "greater good of the nation".
Face à ce cas de force majeure et par devoir citoyen, j'ai décidé de répondre favorablement à l'appel de mes concitoyens me demandant d'être candidat à l'élection présidentielle du 31 octobre 2020.
Je suis donc candidat à l'élection présidentielle du 31 octobre 2020. pic.twitter.com/qILfhxTgCM
- Alassane Ouattara (@AOuattara_PRCI) August 6, 2020
Nothing surprising there, according to Francis Akindès, sociology lecturer at Bouake University. There was no Plan B for the elections apart from the President's late protégé.
"Ouattara himself admitted the death of Gon Coulibaly left a void. Then, the pressure within the RHDP [the ruling Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix] was very strong," he told RFI.
Lobby for Ouattara
Party members, traditional kings and chiefs were insistent the 78-year-old President seek a new mandate. Jeune Afrique weekly wrote that several former rebel leaders who supported him in 2011 also wanted him to run for the upcoming elections.
RHDP supporters celebrating the announcement on Thursday in Abidjan told RFI that Ouattara was the only man for the job.
"We cannot take put anyone in that position as we have accomplished such a good job in the last 9 years, we cannot now afford to go backwards," said a female supporter from the Abobo neighbourhood.
"There are no youth to take over. The only capable one left us," said another.
Is a third mandate illegal?
But the opposition was quick to cry foul, declaring that Ouattara's decision contravenes Article 183 of the new Ivorian constitution which does not allow for three consecutive mandates.
"We expected better from a head of state such as Alassane Ouattara. By standing as candidate, he is violating the Constitution of Côte d'Ivoire. And this is unacceptable," said Moussa Touré, director of communication for Guillaume Soro.
86-year-old candidate Henri Konan Bédié, former president and the leader of the PDCI opposition party, is also challenging Ouattara's candidacy.
Maurice Kakou Guikahué, the executive secretary of the PDCI (Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire) told RFI that Ouattara's candidacy is illegal.
"I know what I'm talking about, I contributed to the drafting of the 2016 Constitution. Ouattara then solemnly told us that he will never seek a third mandate and today I have been cheated on," he told RFI.
2016 Constitution changes all
But the ruling RHDP argues that the 2016 Constitution reset the clock so that Ouattara's first two mandates did not count anymore.
"We have adopted a new Constitution in November 2016 and its laws make provision for what happens henceforth. This is now the first election of our third Republic," Adama Bictogo, executive director of the RHDP, told RFI.
For Akindès, it will be up to the Constitutional Court to rule on whether this third mandate is legal or not.
However, critics question the impartiality of this court where over half of the judges were nominated by Ouattara.
The Gbagbo factor
Meanwhile, Bédié has said there is agreement with former President Laurent Gbagbo that their parties would back the other's candidate in the event of a second-round run-off against Ouattara.
On Thursday, police fired teargas on supporters of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) who were protesting outside the headquarters of the electoral commission.
They demanded that Laurent Gbagbo be included on the voter rolls for the 31 October elections.
Côte d'Ivoire's Gbagbo waiting for a passport to return home after ten years
Gbagbo is currently in Brussels, on conditional release from the International Criminal Court, and is still waiting for a document to be allowed to travel to Côte d'Ivoire.
He was convicted in 2018 by an Ivorian court of having stolen money from the BCEAO, the central regional bank, during the civil war.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Electoral Commission says he is not eligible.