Ivory Coast Chooses Parliament as Opposition Ends Boycott

  • Losing side of 2011 armed conflict makes parliamentary bid
  • President Ouattara looking to consolidate power in vote

Ivorians are going to the polls on Sunday in a vote that will see the losing side of an armed conflict in 2011 return to parliament as President Alassane Ouattara seeks to consolidate his ruling coalition.

Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace coalition as well as hundreds of independent candidates are contesting for 225 seats in the world’s biggest cocoa producer against the Front Populaire Ivorien, which was created by ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. The FPI boycotted previous parliamentary polls and a constitutional referendum in October, with some hardliners saying they don’t acknowledge Ouattara as president.

A voter casts his ballot in Abidjan on Dec. 18.

Photographer: Sia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images

“This election is important and will help to draw a new political map for the country,” said civil servant Jean Paul Sekongo, 43, as he entered a voting station in Cocody, a suburb of the commercial capital, Abidjan. “I hope it will be peaceful.”

While authorities deployed 30,000 troops throughout the country, voting carried on with no reports of violence and will continue until 6 p.m.

Ouattara is seeking to tighten his already strong grip on power after winning a second term in 2015 and the referendum on the new constitution, which enables a vice president to take over if the president is incapacitated, rather than the parliamentary speaker. Ouattara received the backing of most political leaders to win the 2010 presidential vote against Gbagbo, who delayed organizing elections for five years as the country was divided into a rebel north and a government-run south.

“For the implementation of the new constitution, we need a diversified parliament,” Ouattara said on Sunday after voting at the Lycee Sainte Marie school for girls in Cocody. “I hope that the results will be a confirmation of citizens’ choice.”

The FPI is now headed by former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, with Gbagbo standing trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is blamed for inciting violence that killed more than 3,000 people during a six-month standoff that was triggered by his refusal to step down after losing the 2010 vote.

Opposition Voice

“The FPI needs members in parliament to be a force against the ruling coalition,” N’Guessan said in a phone interview. “We aim to have 50 members elected. If we get 30, that will also be good.”

Ouattara is facing increasing unrest within his own ruling coalition even as he has presided over an economy that’s expanded an average 9 percent since taking office and winning the referendum. The discontent is reflected in the more than 700 independent candidates vying for a seat in parliament, including several who’ve been purged from the ruling coalition, Nick Branson, a political analyst at the London-based Africa Research Institute, said by phone.

“Ivory Coast is still a very divided country,” he said. Voters “might as well decide to go for a candidate with more grassroots appeal rather than someone who’s associated with the ruling clique, which risks disrupting what the ruling coalition hopes is an opportunity to consolidate its alliance.”

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