Ivory Coast’s electoral commission promised a fair election on Wednesday as the ruling RHDP party prepared to ask President Alassane Ouattara to stand again, defying opponents who say he does not have the right to a third term under the constitution.
The election is seen as the greatest test yet of the tenuous stability achieved since a brief civil war killed about 3,000 in 2010 and 2011.
The election commission’s role is particularly sensitive. A dispute over Ouattara’s 2010 poll victory sparked the post-election conflict and opposition parties have raised concern this time about the independence of local election offices, which they say favour Ouattara.
The national election commission plans to reform these offices and consult all parties in the run-up to the vote, its president, Ibrahime Coulibaly Kuibert, told Reuters.
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“Our primary objective is to make our process credible and transparent,” he said.
The presidential race was upset earlier this month by the death of Ouattara’s preferred successor, prompting the ruling party to ask Ouattara to reconsider a decision not to run again.
His opponents say the two-term limit in the constitution bars him from standing again, but Ouattara has said his first two mandates do not count under the new constitution adopted in 2016.
The other main confirmed candidate is Henri Konan Bedie, who was president from 1993-1999 and leads one of Ivory Coast’s largest parties, the PDCI.
In a Wednesday interview with France 24 television, Bedie said he had agreed 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.
Gbagbo, who resides in Belgium and was acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court last year, has not yet confirmed he will run as the candidate of his FPI party. But his application for travel documents to return to Ivory Coast has raised expectations an announcement could be imminent.