Ivorian Ruling Party Looks to Cement Control in Legislative Vote

Ivory Coast’s ruling party will seek to consolidate its grip on power in a parliamentary vote on Saturday, five months after President Alassane Ouattara secured a third term in a vote the main opposition boycotted.

Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, which garnered just over half the vote in 2016, is fielding candidates for the 255 National Assembly seats in all the nation’s constituencies. It could face a stiff challenge from ex-President Henri Konan Bedie’s Democratic Party of Ivory Coast and parties aligned to former President Laurent Gbagbo, which have formed a coalition in some districts.

A credible contest could signal an end to months of political wrangling and policy uncertainty in the West African nation, the world’s largest cocoa producer and one of the continent’s top-performing economies since 2012 -- Ouattara’s first full year in office. It would also bolster the president’s authority, making it easier for him to lure foreign investment and follow through on a pledge to invest more in infrastructure.

Bedie and Gbagbo boycotted the presidential vote in October in protest at Ouattara’s decision to seek re-election, alleging it was unlawful despite the Constitutional Council having cleared him to run again. They decided to participate in the legislative contest after the government agreed to additional electoral commission seats for the opposition parties. Former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro’s Generation et Peuples Solidaires isn’t taking part because it said it doesn’t trust the institutions organizing it.

Gbagbo was acquitted on charges of crimes against humanity by The Hague-based International Criminal Court in January 2019, and has been in exile in Belgium pending the prosecutor’s appeal. He’s set to return to Ivory Coast from March 15, according to his son, Michel, who is standing for a parliamentary seat.

While Ivory Coast adopted a law in 2019 that reserves at least 30% of parliamentary seats for women, only 11% of the National Assembly’s members are currently female. The status quo is unlikely to change much after Saturday’s vote, with women accounting for less than 13% of the candidates.

Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who’s running for re-election as a lawmaker, was absent from the campaign trail after being evacuated to France on Feb. 8 for medical tests. He took up his post in July after the death of incumbent Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who was the ruling party’s presidential candidate. The threat of the succession race splitting the party prompted Ouattara to renege on a pledge to quit after serving two terms.

Bakayoko is considered the front-runner to succeed the 79-year-old Ouattara, and his extended absence from his post or incapacitation could have far-reaching political consequences, said Tochi Eni-Kalu, an Africa analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Eurasia Group. He sees Patrick Achi, secretary-general in the presidency, as Bakayoko’s most likely replacement.

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