Elements of Ivory Coast’s tumultuous political past following its autonomy from France have threatened the nation’s attempts at democracy yet again. Ivory Coast secured its independence in 1960, and as expected with any former colony, achieving a legitimate government has proved to be a challenge. The nation’s subsequent elections have been riddled with corruption and one-party politics, prompting multiple civil wars. President Alassane Ouattara won the election in 2010 and was reelected in 2015 as well, therefore serving his allotted two terms. When he announced his party’s successor to take his place earlier this year, he was praised for abiding by the constitution and following the rules of democracy. Trouble occurred, however, after the successor passed away, and Ouattara announced that he would have no choice but to run again, prompting more violence and outrage that were present years prior. President Alassane Ouattara’s third term threatens Ivory Coast’s precarious democracy, while political turmoil and civil unrest prevail.
President Ouattara’s third term can be considered unconstitutional. The Ivory Coast’s constitution stipulates that a president can only serve two terms. This new constitution passed in 2016, during President Ouattara’s second term. Because of this, he has claimed that his two terms can be disregarded since the new constitution was not in effect yet; however, the old constitution that was active during Ouattara’s first term also limited presidents to two terms. Ouattara’s opposition fiercely disagrees with his notion. According to them, a new constitution does not erase Ouattara’s previous terms. President Ouattara’s disregard for the constitution could indicate the beginnings of constitutional retrogression, a term defined by Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg in their essay “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy:” “a more subtle, incremental erosion to three institutional predicates of democracy occurring simultaneously: competitive elections; rights of political speech and association; and the administrative and adjudicative rule of law,” (Huq and Ginsburg 78) . President Ouattara disrupted the election and the administrative rule of law by stepping outside the bounds of the constitution. Even though the judiciary agreed with Ouattara, the opposition views the federal court as largely biased in favor of the president; thus, the judiciary can no longer be considered a bipartisan institution.
Another instance of President Ouattara’s threat to democracy is through the delegitimization of his opposition. 40 out of 43 opponents running for the presidency were disqualified with no alternate solution, including two of Ouattara’s most popular competitors: Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader and speaker of parliament, and former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. The three candidates who were allowed to be on the ballot actually boycotted the election in solidarity with those who were barred from running, also encouraging their supporters to do the same. In order for a democracy to represent the voices of its citizens, multiple candidates need to be acknowledged, thus allowing voters to have a fair choice over who best embodies their viewpoints. According to the polity score system, a component of the measurement of democracy depends on if opposition is permitted or repressed. Ouattara’s suppression of his competition, including two candidates who had the greatest chances of defeating the president, prevented a fair election and is indicative of democratic erosion.
Disagreement over the legitimacy of the election itself presents a decline in democracy. There are wide disputes over voter turnout. The national electoral commission claimed it was 54%, while the opposition said overall turnout was only 10%. It is not clear which side has the more accurate voter number, but the disparity between the two only contributes to the political tensions that have increased over the course of the election. In addition, with most of President Ouattara’s competition having been eliminated and the remaining candidates boycotting the election, it is evident that there was no legitimate competition to constitute a fair election. Lastly, with the pandemic crisis occupying western nations, few resources were dedicated to monitoring the election. Election monitors are especially important in newer democracies such as this one because they determine whether or not the electoral process is legitimate. Joseph Schumpeter, a political economist, offers a clear definition of democracy in The Classical Doctrine of Democracy. In it, he states that a person must come to power by being elected through a “competitive struggle for the people’s vote,” (Schumpeter 269) . It is quite clear in Ivory Coast’s election that President Ouattara did not necessarily compete for anyone’s vote between the disparities in the voter turnout, lack of competition, and the population’s boycott of the election.
As of now, President Ouattara’s opponents are viewing his election as illegitimate and are forming plans to set up their own transitional government. Dozens of civilians have already died in violent protests, and with the country’s history of civil war, continued unrest is looking probable. Examining these events, it is clear that Ivory Coast’s already weak democracy will not become stronger anytime in the near future, and other nations should be wary of the country’s risk of decline to authoritarian regime. Huq, Aziz and Tom Ginsburg. 2017. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” UCLA Law Review.  Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers.
Photo by Pawel Janiak.
Interesting and informative report on the current election debacle in the Ivory Coast. When I first read through your post, it was hard not to assume that the death of the originally planned successor, “AGC” was, well…suspiciously convenient. However, having read the articles you hyperlinked to, his existing heart problems and supposed close relationship with Ouattara make things less clear-cut, even to a cynic like myself. In wake of the recent American tensions surrounding Trump’s refusal to accept election results, it was also sobering to read that thousands of Ivorians died after similar events when Ouattara rose to power. The disparity in reported voter turnout reminds me of another blog post here that discusses the election situation in Benin, where 3/4 of the population did not vote in protest of the unfair election. It seems that maintaining competitive elections and a vicious/corrupt power scramble among political elites is a near-ubiquitous problem in West Africa today, and on my own time I definitely plan on researching the potential causes for this correlation.