- Title: IVORY COAST-POLITICS Ivorian opposition coalition threatens to obstruct elections
- Date: 1st September 2015
- Summary: COMPUTER SCREEN
- Embargoed: 16th September 2015 13:00
- Location: Senegal
- Country: Senegal
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVAD8C31XEKMFLM1TECPK02KTYS3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Just two years ago Pascal Affi N'Guessan was sitting in an Ivory Coast prison cell, having been on the losing side of a civil war sparked by President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to accept his defeat in a 2010 election.
Today he is running for president, an endeavour that is as much an attempt revive Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) after years of election boycotts as it is a serious bid for the country's top job.
"If we don't participate, there will be no motivation to intensify the work that we do on the ground. We will take our time, we'll be out of the country, and will not be in contact with voters. It is the others who will be participating who will be involved in the electoral process and so it is those people who will start to rally around their political parties and the citizens of the country," said N'Guessan.
But this stance has pitted him against other FPI leaders in a battle for control of the country's main opposition force.
The outcome will likely go a long way towards shaping the future political scene and the prospects for long-term stability.
More than four years on from the war's end, Ivory Coast -- French-speaking West Africa's largest economy and the world's top cocoa grower -- remains a country of stark contrasts.
Under the stewardship of President Alassane Ouattara, who was declared victor of the 2010 run-off and is again heavily favoured in the October vote, Ivory Coast has undergone an economic revival that has foreign investors taking notice. But political reconciliation has moved at a slower pace.
Gbagbo is facing trial before the International Criminal Court accused of crimes against humanity. The FPI claims hundreds more of its members are political prisoners in the country's own jails. Tens of thousands of Ivorians still live as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Nonetheless N'Guessan has largely abandoned the fiery rhetoric of the crisis days in favour of a more moderate tone.
"After this serious crisis, how do we reposition the party? Should we choose to maintain a confrontational approach, confrontation with those in power? Or rather, should we engage with the standard national reconciliation process that was asked by everyone? Personally, I have proposed and I continue to follow the path of dialogue for reconciliation because I believe that the country has suffered too much," he said.
As N'Guessan was declaring his candidacy this month, hardliners led by Gbagbo's former foreign minister Aboudramane Sangare called another poll boycott, the FPI's third since 2011, and drawing stark battle lines in the fight for Gbagbo's legacy.
"Just because there's no more bombing and no more shooting every day, doesn't mean the crisis is over. No, it's not over," said Boubacar Kone, a spokesman for the Sangare-led faction, who described Ouattara's 2010 election victory as a "coup d'etat".
In order to turn the page on the 2011 war, to strengthen his legitimacy at home and ease the minds of investors, Ouattara needs peaceful, credible elections in October.
That includes the participation of viable opponents. The government undertook a process of regular fraught dialogue with the opposition that began with the release from prison of officials like N'Guessan, the FPI's president, in 2013.
Sangare's faction, however, claim Ouattara used the process to create a toothless opposition that will lend the elections credibility but not mount a serious challenge.
Today, the two factions have rival leadership structures.
The current stakes for the FPI are high. Attempts to form a new coalition to challenge Ouattara in the elections have struggled to gain traction. So the victor of the FPI's current infighting will likely emerge at the head of Ivory Coast's dominant opposition force.
Gbagbo, who has remained conspicuously silent on the split from his cell in The Hague, won the first round of the 2010 election and took 46 percent of votes in the run-off against Ouattara.
Analysts give N'Guessan has little chance of winning in the presidential poll. But capturing even some of those votes in next year's legislative elections could give the FPI a strong voice in a National Assembly that is now almost entirely dominated by Ouattara's allies.
But to do so N'Guessan will need to mobilise Gbagbo's supporters, a task now complicated by his row with the hardliners.
"So for all those reasons, the Sangare wing within the FPI sees him as a collaborator of the ruling coalition. They perceive him as a puppet opposition, and they have labeled him a traitor. Now, this is a heavy label to carry for Affi Nguessan. It is a bit of a millstone around his neck in the current elections," said Lori-Anne Theroux-Benoni, head of the Institute for Security Studies' West Africa office.
Another well-heeded boycott call would strike a further blow against reconciliation efforts by again excluding Gbagbo's supporters from the political process.
It would also likely embolden the hardliners in their withdrawal from the mainstream, a risky prospect in a country with a recent history of political violence.
However N'Guessan said he believes Ivory Coast is now finally ready to turn the page on confrontational politics, adding that some of Sangare's backers are already returning to the fold.
"We're telling them every day that their place is here in the heart of the party. Personally, I am optimistic that before October we will all be back together and continue the struggle to serve our country," he said.
Ivory Coast is due to hold presidential elections on October 25, which are seen as an important step toward overcoming a decade of political turmoil and civil war.
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