Agence France Presse (Abidjan) – Côte d’Ivoire’s 86-year-old former president Henri Konan Bédié declared yesterday that “age is an asset” as he was declared the candidate for his opposition party in October’s tense presidential election.
After years of political turbulence in the West African country, the election has been tipped into uncertainty by the sudden death on 8 July of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly.
Coulibaly, a popular figure, was seen as the anointed successor of President Alassane Ouattara, who had ruled out standing for re-election on 31 October. But Coulibaly’s death has stirred speculation that Ouattara could run after all.
Bédié, who served as president from 1993 until he was ousted in a coup in 1999, is hoping to fill the power vacuum. He is the leader of the Parti démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), which held a convention in Abidjan on Sunday to select its candidate.
“No age limit”
Roughly 9,000 delegates voted at 388 polling stations across the country in the PDCI’s primaries, but the result was not in doubt – Bédié was the only contestant.
“For us in the PDCI, age is an asset,” Bédié told reporters after casting his vote. “Age brings together experience as well as competence.”
Opponents of Bédié, who ran unsuccessfully for president of Côte d’Ivoire in 2000 and 2010, have criticised him, citing his advanced age.
In response, the PDCI party chief said: “That’s their problem. There is no age limit under the constitution. I am gathering all my physical and intellectual strength.”
Bédié’s second presidency came at a time when Côte d’Ivoire was a haven of peace and stability in West Africa, before the coup that removed him from power, a low-lying civil war, and the bloody political unrest that followed.
Bédié said he hoped to “fulfil a mission of public safety to restore Côte d’Ivoire”.
Sphinx of Daoukro
Dubbed the “sphinx of Daoukro” after both his native town and his economy with words, Bédié was mentored by Côte d’Ivoire’s founding president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled until his death in 1993 and remains a beloved figure to many in the country.
The PDCI was part of a governing coalition with Ouattara’s Rassemblement houphouëtiste pour la démocratie et la paix (RHDP) from 2011 to 2018, but the alliance broke up over the question of who would stand as the 2020 presidential candidate.
Some analysts now expect that Bédié will compete against Ouattara, 76, even though the president said in March that he would not stand again and wished to make way for “the new generation” – a comment seen as a reference to Bédié’s presidential aspirations.
But after Coulibaly’s death from a heart attack, Ouattara’s ruling RHDP has struggled to find an alternative candidate for the 31 October vote.
If Ouattara chooses to run, it will likely spark accusations of abuse of democracy under the country’s two-term presidential limits. He has previously argued that a constitutional change in 2016 has reset the clock, enabling him to potentially run again.
Côte d’Ivoire’s third major national party, the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI), has yet to name a candidate.
It is unclear if the party’s founder, Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to step down as president after losing an election in 2011 triggered a stand-off that claimed 3,000 lives, will be able to run.
Gbagbo was cleared of crimes against humanity last year by the International Criminal Court but Ivorian prosecutors are appealing the ruling.
David Esnault / © Agence France-Presse