(Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara appears set to tighten his grip on power as the world’s biggest cocoa producer votes for a Senate for the first time in its history.
With the opposition boycotting Saturday’s vote for two-thirds of the 99-member chamber and Ouattara appointing the remainder, the ruling coalition Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, named after the country’s founding father, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, should dominate the new chamber.
“The Senate is a further way for the executive to assign political posts to the coalition’s allies, especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to be ministers or mayors,” Ousmane Zina, a political analyst at the University Alassane Ouattara in the central city of Bouake, said by phone.
Since his appointment as president in 2011 following a military intervention that ousted Laurent Gbagbo over his refusal to acknowledge defeat in a November 2010 vote, Ouattara, 76, has consolidated his power base. He’s overseen an economy that’s expanded 8 percent last year, and led his ruling coalition to a comfortable win in 2016 parliamentary elections, taking 167 of the 255 seats.
Lawmakers have given strong support to the president’s policies, with more than 94 percent of deputies approving the 2018 budget in December. The National Assembly is headed by former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, whose troops fought against Gbagbo’s in 2011.
Creating a Senate was one of the main changes of a constitutional reform that was approved in a 2016 referendum. The opposition will boycott the election because it says the electoral commission is dominated by Ouattara supporters and the Senate will create a system of patronage. Police intervened to end a small protest by opposition supporters in the commercial capital, Abidjan, on Thursday.
The election is indirect, with an electoral college of municipal and regional councilors casting votes.
The Senate represents regional authorities and Ivorians living overseas, according to the constitution. The appointed Senators will be chosen from among former heads of public bodies, ex-prime ministers and high-profile personalities.
“The Senate will be a marginal player at best,” Amaka Anku, Africa analyst at New York-based Eurasia Group, said in an emailed response to questions. “Though the new constitution does afford the Senate a say in legislation, the National Assembly gets the final say where there is disagreement between the two chambers.”
After Senegal scrapped its Senate in 2012 to save money, Ivory Coast’s move to establish the chamber is seen by some as wasteful. The election has sparked little interest among Ivorians, many of whom don’t really understand the purpose of a Senate, said Francis Akindes, a sociologist based in the commercial capital, Abidjan.
“There’s a strong feeling that the Senate will only mean additional public expenses, and that this money could have been used for social expenditures instead,” he said.
Even as the ruling coalition is united in its approach to the Senate vote, the last few weeks have exposed further cracks in the alliance that’s bitterly divided over who will succeed Ouattara when he steps down in 2020, BMI Research said.
The question of Ouattara’s succession “may create obstacles to coherent legislative cooperation in the coming quarters,” BMI said in a report. “If these divisions are exacerbated, it will weigh on policy formation and would undermine the president’s greater powers created by the new senate.”
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