Ouattara’s election victory could risk Ivory Coast’s stability

Opposition boycott and widespread violence mean President Alassane Ouattara might risk losing legitimacy he fought for years to acquire.

Electoral commission officials are seen at a polling station in Abidjan on October 31, 2020, during Ivory Coast's presidential election [Photo by Issouf SANOGO/AFP]

Abidjan, Ivory Coast – As the plates of grilled chicken were left untouched, Abdoulaye Kouame decided to lock up his restaurant early.

“All we want is a leader that can ensure peace and stability,” the 32-year-old chef said as he closed up. “If we can get someone to continue the path the country’s on, things will be fine.”

As the first results from Ivory Coast’s October 31 election continued to trickle in late on Monday, the streets in Cocody – an upscale neighbourhood of the commercial capital, Abidjan – were eerily empty.

Initial results showed President Alassane Ouattara was heading for a landslide victory in a tense vote that was marred by deadly violence before and after the polls opened on Saturday.

Opposition leaders had called on supporters to boycott the electoral process, saying Ouattara’s bid for a third term was unconstitutional.  While Ivory Coast has a limit of two presidential terms, Ouattara insists a new constitution in 2016 allows him to run again.

At least nine people were killed in clashes between political supporters and protesters and security forces on election day, according to local authorities. Some 30 people were reported killed in pre-election violence. The government said it had deployed more than 35,000 security forces across the country to secure the vote.

Opposition calls for interim gov’t

The volatile security situation deterred many voters from casting their ballots. Voting did not take place in 23 percent of polling stations, according to the non-profit Indigo Cote d’Ivoire, which deployed 700 observers across the country on election day.

The opposition candidates who boycotted the vote – ex-President Henri Konan Bedie and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan – said on Monday that they did not recognise Ouattara’s victory. N’Guessan said late on Monday that a group of political opposition parties had formed a national transition council. An interim government would be named within the next hours to prepare for a new election, he added.

President Alassane Ouattara, pictured here after voting in Abidjan, is on track to secure a third term [Luc Gnago/Reuters]

The high tensions surrounding the vote have raised concerns about the continued stability of the world’s top cocoa producer, a country still recovering from months of post-election violence in 2010 and 2011 that killed some 3,000 people. Initial reports of a low voter turnout – particularly in opposition strongholds where political supporters disrupted the process by destroying voting materials and preventing polling stations from opening – further raises concerns over the credibility of Ouattara’s continued rule.

The Carter Center said in a report that the political context did not allow for a “competitive and credible” election. Of the 44 presidential aspirants, 40 were disqualified. The opposition’s call for a boycott, acts of violence and the fact that several candidates did not participate fully in the election “risked the acceptance of the results by the population and the stability of the country”, the report added.

‘If there’s peace, there will be progress’

Aminata Bamba, a 38-year-old trader in Yopougon, a populous neighbourhood in Abidjan, said the election was important so that Ivory Coast could “move forward”.

“If there’s peace, there will also be progress,” she said.

Drissa Tiote, a 37-year-old mechanic and Ouattara supporter, said, “The president is working for the Ivorians. If he’s in power, there will be stability and growth.”

Under Ouattara, Ivory Coast has rebuilt its economy over the past decade through large-scale infrastructure and agriculture projects. Growth averaged more than seven percent during Ouattara’s first two terms, before the coronavirus pandemic pumped the brakes on the economy this year.

But despite the skyrocketing growth rates, the government’s focus on infrastructure projects – mainly in Abidjan – has frustrated many Ivorians who feel left out.

Others are clearly “offended” by Ouattara’s bid for a third five-year term, and the president will have to tread carefully to not plunge the country into another crisis should he win another term, said Flan Moquet, a political analyst and director of the Abidjan-based Center for Political Research.

“There’s not only the issue of voter participation that remains important for the legitimacy of the vote and Ouattara’s third mandate, but also the fact that a large part of the population feel left out of this vote,” Moquet said.

“This will determine how an eventual winner is received, particularly by those who didn’t participate in the vote either due to the opposition’s call for a boycott or [due to] the fact that their candidate wasn’t even on their ballot,” he added.

An African Union observer mission urged both sides to engage in talks to ensure stability in the post-election period. Ouattara looked set for a landslide victory, having been named the winner in all constituencies announced by the electoral commission late on Monday and having garnered at least 90 percent of the vote in most constituencies.

A clear victory for the incumbent could calm tensions in the long-term, said Sylvain N’Guessan, a political analyst and director of the Abidjan Strategy Institute. However, he added, “We’re likely to see an increase in violent incidents in the days to come as those figures are scrutinised by the opposition.”

Source: Al Jazeera