The wind is no longer blowing in the right direction, and the political air now seems polluted in the west African nation of Côte d’Ivoire.  With a huge uncertainty over how the elections scheduled for October 2020 will be conducted.

It still remains unclear if indeed the elections will be held this October following concerns over the electoral environment and other technicalities. Some of the notable concerns raised include the composition and reform of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC),  which is accused of stifling opposition and civil society voices. In 2016, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that the composition of the then Electoral Commission unduly favored the ruling party and incumbent president and that the manner of appointment was incompatible with requirements of impartiality as cited in a report by the Strategic Analysis at Association Internationale Afrique Survie (Institute AIAS).  Also, the issuance of new identity cards and the voter registration process, have raised discord between the government and the opposition ahead of the October presidential polls.

In addition, the former president of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro,  and the only major opponent to announce his candidacy, in December 2019 accused the government of trying to lock him out from participating in the presidential race after an Ivorian court issued an international arrest warrant against him. Soro was forced into exile and is being prosecuted for “attempting to undermine the authority of the state and the integrity of the national territory, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering” for an amount of 1.5 billion CFA francs (USD 2.5 million).

The warrant was issued on Monday, 23 December 2019, the date on which he planned to enter Côte d’Ivoire to prepare for the 2020 presidential election, after six months in exile. In Abidjan, the country’s economic capital, security forces were deployed to prevent the regrouping of supporters of his citizen movement called Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS). Fifteen of his relatives were arrested and imprisoned, in what the state says were “completely different cases.”

Guillaume Soro and his supporters see this as the hand of power and denounce a manoeuvre to prevent him from running for the presidency.

This International Arrest Warrant is purely political. Alassane Ouattara obviously wants to run for a third term, and Soro Guillaume is a strong opponent with whom he will have to share the northern electorate. He wants to eliminate him from the race. This mandate could be the argument for the Constitutional Council to reject the candidacy of Guillaume Soro. But I don’t think his supporters will accept it. They have already supported the candidacy of their leader and they expect his victory in 2020. At least, if he is to lose the presidential election, it must be done fairly, by the result of the ballot boxes and not by a legal trick to discard their candidate.

– A member of the citizen movement Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS), who requested anonymity.

The showdown

On one hand, Guillaume Soro, the new opponent, is trying to do everything possible to discredit the government in place, while on the other, the Ouattara administration is giving itself all the means to demonstrate the truthfulness of the facts that it claims against Soro Guillaume.

I am a candidate for the presidential election 2020. Only the sovereign people of Cote d’Ivoire will decide and not Alassane Ouattara who is the outgoing president.

– Guillaume Soro via Twitter in December 2019.

The presidential election of October 2020 promises to be hotly contested. On the eve of the new year, as if to challenge his former political ally, the former president of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro, broadcast his New Year’saddress via the social media exactly at the same time as Ouattara was delivering his the message of greetings to the nation.

In his address to the nation, the Ivorian Head of State made the promise of a “peaceful election year” in 2020. We must recognize that the current rift with the former ally have captured all the attention of most Ivorians and created a climate of uncertainty and fear.

In his new year message issued on the 6th of January 2020, president Alassane Dramane Ouattara proposed for a constitutional change in parliament which pundits argue is meant to stifle opposition in the coming polls.

What is going on between President Alassane Ouattara and the former president of the National Assembly, Guillaume Soro, makes the political situation in our country very dangerous and fragile. There is a great deal of tension, contrary to what the government would want us to believe. The situation is very tricky and the country is sitting on a time bomb such that any slightest mistake can tip the country into violence. We are all scared because those who are fighting this cold war do not have our children’s interest at heart.

-Pascal Kakou, a business leader.

Avoiding another crisis in Côte d’Ivoire

Given the political stakes of the upcoming elections, it is the responsibility and duty of the powers-that-be to do their utmost to organize peaceful elections. In this regard, the government has a duty to address all points of contention that arise around the preparation for the 2020 presidential elections. The composition of the governing body of the Ivorian Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which was just sworn in on the 25th of September 2019, is already being challenged.

The opposition continues to call for the revision of the promulgated law establishing the electoral commission, and for the acquisition of new national identity cards to be free of charge. These are all concerns that need urgent attention.

In order to have a peaceful and credible presidential election, the electoral process must be inclusive. The law on the reconstitution of the IEC has certainly been adopted and promulgated, but if we wish to have peaceful elections, the Government must initiate another round of discussions with the political actors that had withdrawn. This is extremely important because if those politicians do not have confidence in this institution responsible for organising the elections, then they will be sure to challenge the results it proclaims. The second thing concerns the conditions of being a candidate. The Head of State had hinted at a possible change in the constitution and an increase in the deposit to stand for the presidential election. We hope that this will not be effective. For this reform could be interpreted as aiming to exclude a category of citizens who wish to run for the supreme magistracy. This could lead to challenges.

– Blandine Angbako, Ivorian lawyer and activist.

In order to finalize work on the electoral code, the government plans to resume dialogue with the opposition and civil society during the month of January. With the disagreements between the government and the opposition over the preparation of the 2020 presidential election, Côte d’Ivoire is on a slippery slope. But, with a little political will from all the actors, there is still time to rectify the situation and spare the population of another post-election crisis.