Ivory Coast president wins 3rd term after disputed election, as fears of violence persist

Ivory Coast’s electoral commission said Tuesday that President Alassane Ouattara has overwhelmingly won a third term in office after his two main opponents boycotted the election and called his candidacy illegal.

In a sign of mounting tensions over the vote, security forces broke up a news conference held by the political opposition and then dispersed the group, including international journalists, with tear gas. The move came hours after opposition leaders said they considered Ouattara’s mandate to be over.

There have been widespread fears that post-election violence could erupt in Ivory Coast, where more than 3,000 people were killed a decade ago following a disputed vote.

The opposition coalition says more than 30 people have already died in violence linked to Saturday’s election. On Monday night, opposition leaders said their call for civil disobedience was still in effect and told supporters “to remain mobilized until the final victory.”

The UN refugee agency reported that as of Tuesday, more than 3,200 Ivorians had fled to Liberia, Ghana and Togo fearing post-electoral violence.

“I fear for the future. What’s the point of giving the results of this election when practically all observers question the credibility? Can the re-election of a contested candidate heal the wounds of 2010?” said Abidjan resident Mikael Koffi on Tuesday.

“Where are we going with the country so divided that the opposition does not recognize the results of the election on one side and the ruling party does not want to make concessions on the other?” he added.

Dispute over vote, turnout

Ouattara received 94.3 per cent of the vote in Saturday’s election, the commission said early Tuesday. Turnout was 53.9 per cent, according to election officials, while the opposition has maintained only 10 per cent of Ivorian voters took part.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara speaks to journalists after voting at a polling station in Abidjan on Oct. 31. Ouattara ran for a third term after a previously nominated candidate died, leading to controversy. (Leo Correa/The Associated Press)

Ouattara had been expected to easily win the election after leading opposition figures Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bedie called on their supporters to stay home. The only opposition candidate who still took part, Kouadio Konan Bertin, won 1.99 per cent of the votes cast, the commission said.

Critics say Ouattara and his allies had shaped the race long before election day — 40 of the 44 potential candidates were disqualified from running, including former prime minister Guillaume Soro and ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.

Voter Awa Coulibaly said she was happy for the re-election of her candidate, but she said the victory would have been better had his opponents taken part in the process.

“I urge President Alassane Ouattara to always reach out to the opposition by forming an open government,” she said while shopping at a market in the Abobo neighbourhood of Abidjan. “Ivory Coast must definitively turn the page on these electoral crises.”

Ouattara has been in power for nearly a decade and initially said he would not run again, but he changed his mind after his party’s candidate died suddenly in July. He maintains that the two-term limit does not apply to him because of a constitutional referendum passed in 2016.

The 78-year-old president has said he was motivated to run again because of his love for his country. He has said it’s unlikely he would seek re-election again in 2025.

Opposition’s next move unclear

The opposition first tried to get Ouattara disqualified from seeking a third term but that legal effort failed. On Monday, the opposition coalition signalled it would go ahead and form a transitional government despite the official results showing Ouattara headed toward re-election.

They insisted that Ouattara’s mandate to lead Ivory Coast was now finished, and promised they would start working on organizing “a fair, transparent and inclusive presidential election.”

A man holds a sign depicting former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo during a political meeting on Oct. 10 in a stadium in Abidjan. Gbagbo was among a number of candidates not eligible to run this time around. (Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn’t immediately clear how the opposition could proceed with their plan given that the country’s electoral commissions are heavily weighted with Ouattara supporters, as is the constitutional council that is to certify official results from Saturday’s election.

International election observers had said Monday that “a significant portion of the population did not vote,” compared to previous presidential elections.

“These problems threaten public acceptance of the results and the country’s cohesion,” said a statement released by the observer mission carried out by The Carter Center and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

Ouattara was the internationally recognized winner of the disputed 2010 election, when then-president Gbagbo refused to concede defeat. Both men held their own inauguration ceremonies and the standoff persisted for months, until pro-Ouattara forces captured Gbagbo from his underground bunker.

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