Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council last month cleared four candidates to run in the country’s high-stakes election on October 31, whittling down an initial list of 44 presidential hopefuls.
Among them, controversially, was incumbent President Alassane Ouattara.
In power for a decade, the 78-year-old says constitutional amendments introduced in 2016 effectively reset the countdown clock on the two-term limit and allow him to run again. But the opposition and critics insist the move is unconstitutional.
Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been rocked by deadly protests since Ouattara announced his candidacy, sparking fears of instability in a country still recovering from months of post-election violence that killed some 3,000 people in 2010 and 2011.
In Saturday’s vote, Ouattara’s main challengers will be former President Henri Konan Bedie and ex-Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan. The opposition leaders have called for an election boycott and civil disobedience, though they have not formally withdrawn their candidacies. The fourth challenger is independent candidate Kouadio Konan Bertin.
The aspirant candidates ruled out by the council in mid-September included prominent Ouattara rivals, such as former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was acquitted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity charges last year, and ex-rebel leader and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, both of whom reside outside Ivory Coast but command strong followings inside the country.
Below is a look at the four men vying for Ivory Coast’s presidency.
The former executive of the International Monetary Fund has said he is running against his will.
In early March, he announced he would not seek another mandate, in an announcement that seemed to end months of speculation that Ouattara would try to extend his stay, thus eliminating a great source of friction between the governing RDHP party and the opposition before the highly anticipated polls.
However, Ouattara revised his position five months later following the sudden death of his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly
“I had planned my life after the presidency. This is a real sacrifice for me,” Ouattara said in August, announcing his decision to run for a third term, adding that it was due to a “force majeure”.
Seen as the favourite to win, Ouattara has received many plaudits for the country’s economic successes, including managing skyrocketing growth rates. Critics, however, have said the economic gains have not trickled down to the poor and accuse Ouattara of veering towards authoritarianism.
Bedie was Ivory Coast’s president from 1993-1999.
At 86 years of age, he was counted out by some, who expected his PDCI (Democratic Party of Ivory Coast) to name a younger presidential candidate this year.
But Bedie won the PDCI’s nomination with more than 99 percent support from party delegates.
His strength in the general election remains to be seen, although he is widely considered the biggest threat to Ouattara’s re-election.
The PDCI, the party of Ivory Coast’s founding president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, has been locked out of power since a 1999 military coup that overthrew Bedie.
He and Pascal Affi N’Guessan called for a boycott of the election at a joint news conference in Abidjan on October 15.
The 67-year-old is the nominee of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party (FPI). He was prime minister from 2000 to 2003 during Gbagbo’s presidency.
Following the brief civil war that erupted in 2010 when Gbagbo refused to stand down after the electoral commission declared Ouattara the winner of an election, Affi N’Guessan was arrested and placed under house arrest until his release in 2013.
His decision to be the FPI’s flag-bearer in the 2015 presidential election angered hardliners and Gbagbo’s supporters within the party, and led to a split.
Gbagbo is currently based in Belgium as he awaits the outcome of an appeal against his acquittal by the ICC in January 2019.
Affi N’Guessan came second behind Ouattara in the 2015 election with 9.2 percent of the vote.
Known by his initials KKB, 51-year-old Bertin is the youngest of the four candidates.
He pitches himself as the “fresh face” of politics in a country where more than two-thirds of the population is under age 35.
Bertin is a former PDCI loyalist who has split for the second time with the party and his former mentor, Bedie, to run as an independent candidate.
He first left the party when Bedie decided not to present a PDCI candidate for the 2015 presidential election.
He ran as an independent coming third behind Ouattara and Affi.
Bertin returned to the PDCI party in 2017, hoping that the old guard would step aside and allow the younger generation to lead party in 2020.
He left when his candidature to lead the party was rejected.
He has refused to join Bedie and Affi in calling for a boycott saying voters in Ivory Coast want an alternative to Ouattara.