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Court validates Ouattara third term after contested vote

Ivory Coast’s constitutional council on Monday validated President Alassane Ouattara’s reelection to a third term after his landslide victory in an October 31 ballot marred by clashes and an opposition boycott.

Ouattara, 78, won by more than 94 percent of the vote, but Ivory Coast is caught in a standoff after opposition leaders boycotted the ballot and vowed to set up a rival government, accusing him of breaking with two-term presidential limits.

Nearly 50 people have been killed in clashes over his reelection bid since August, fuelling fears that francophone West Africa’s top economy could slide into the kind of widespread violence it suffered after a disputed 2010 vote.

Constitutional Council President Mamadou Kone said the top court ratified the results of the October 31 vote and noted “no serious irregularities” in the conduct of the election.

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“Alassane Ouattara is proclaimed elected in the first round,” Council President Mamadou Kone said in a statement broadcast on television.

Opposition protesters and police clashed earlier on Monday in Abidjan’s Yopougon district, where a minibus was set ablaze, an AFP reporter said.

Disturbances also broke out in the capital Yamoussoukro, and in the opposition strongholds of Daoukro, Bouadikro, and Bongouanou, residents said, as the opposition sought to mobilize supporters.

Ivory Coast’s opposition leaders are now under investigation for insurrection after they rejected the result and called for a rival transitional government.

After several tense days, Abidjan, the former French colony’s economic capital, has mostly returned to its usual bustle though police were still surrounding the home of opposition chief Henri Konan Bedie in the city.

Two others, former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Maurice Kakou Guikahue, deputy of Bedie’s main opposition party PDCI, have been arrested.

United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet called Monday for dialogue and expressed concern over arrests and blockades.

“It is in nobody’s interests to fuel the threat of increasing political instability,” she said in a statement.

“I urge political leaders from all sides to work together to calm the tensions through dialogue –- not heavy-handed security responses and arrests.”

– Talks over tensions –
Diplomats and government sources say talks are ongoing with the two sides to ease tensions though no major progress has been made so far.

Opponents had said Ouattara’s third mandate was illegal, calling for a boycott and a campaign of civil disobedience to disrupt voting.

Much of the violence in the lead-up to the election involved clashes between youth from local ethnic groups allied with the opposition and Dioula communities seen as close to Ouattara, himself a Muslim from the north.

The bitter rivalry between Ouattara and Bedie, 86, has marked Ivorian politics for decades along with the country’s ethnic and regional loyalties.

In power since 2010, Ouattara had said that at the end of his second term he would make way for the next generation, raising hopes for an end to the long-running feud between the country’s aging leaders.

Supporters praised him for bringing economic growth and stability to the world’s top cocoa producer after years of unrest.

But the sudden death of his chosen successor in July prompted him to change his mind. He says a 2016 reform allowed him to reset the presidential term limits and run for a third time.

His bid angered opposition chiefs, stoking tensions over a possible post-election crisis like in 2010-11 when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.

The country was already divided into two after a 2002 civil war — the north held by rebels and the south by Gbagbo’s forces.

Ouattara won a long-delayed 2010 election, but Gbagbo refused to step down despite international recognition of Ouattara.

French troops eventually intervened as Abidjan became a battleground and Ouattara loyalists were able to oust Gbagbo from his bunker.

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