| Democratic Process
This section has been updated
by Mr Boubacar Issa Abdourhamane,
a doctorate student at the CEAN, IEP Montesquieu University of Bordeaux
From independence to the end
of 1993, the Ivory Coast was led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. He succeeded in earning
himself a reputation for being the wise man of Africa and in giving his country an image
of relative freedom, despite a political system based on a single party the Parti
Démocratique de Côte dIvoire, a section of the Rassemblement
Démocratique Africain (PDCI-RDA).
The transition to democracy in the Ivory Coast was really started off by President Houphouët-Boigny in April 1990. The austere measures taken by the government at the beginning of the year had caused a social crisis with student demonstrations and marches by the opposition (which was still illegal at the time). To keep the initiative and stay in control of the nascent process, President Houphouët-Boigny decided to authorise a multiparty system and to legalise political parties in May.
After several months marked by protests led by school students and the 14 newly-legalised parties, the presidential elections were held on 28 October 1990. For the first time, there were two candidates: President Houphouët-Boigny and Laurent Gbagbo, the President of the main opposition party, the Ivorian Peoples Front (Front populaire ivorien FPI). President Houphouët-Boigny was elected with 81.67% of the votes. In the general elections held on 25 November, the PDCI won 163 of the 175 seats in the Parliament, despite the fact that candidates had stood representing 18 other parties. However, since its defeat of 1990, the opposition has constantly accused the Parti Démocratique de Côte dIvoire (PDCI) of electoral irregularities and fraud.
The presidential and general elections of October and November 1995, the first to be held without Houphouët-Boigny, who had died in December 1993, were also marked by the large number of political parties. But once again, the opposition sharply criticised the unfair behaviour of the government both during the campaigns and in the voting itself. The presidential election was won by Henry Konan Bédié, the interim President, with 92.25% of the votes cast. His two main opponents, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, did not take part in the election. The FPI and the RDR called for a boycott of the election in accordance with the strategy laid out by the united front of the opposition.
The general elections of November 1996 saw a turnout of 45% with voters having the choice between 29 political parties with a total of 654 candidates; 343 candidates had been rejected beforehand. At the end of a process involving the organisation of several by-elections (in December 1996 and March 1998), the PDCI ended up with 146 seats, compared with 14 each for the FPI and the RDR. The electoral system favoured the party in power, in that the members of parliament are elected on a first-past-the-post basis by constituencies and the opposition was unable to put up joint candidates.
On the eve of the general elections scheduled for 2000, the political atmosphere was very tense. The social front was led by the students in the first half of 1999, but there was also pressure on the political front. The opposition (notably the FPI and RDR) created a united front to add substance to their demand that the government, among other things, set up an electoral commission, give equal access to the media and provide public financing for the political parties. This front was to split, however, when Laurent Gbagbo went it alone in signing an agreement with the authorities which gave in to some of the demands of his party. The government thus accepted the principle of a national electoral commission, although this body was to assist the Minister of the Interior and was not to be independent. The RDR was thus left alone to face the PDCI authorities who were determined to use all legal or political means to prevent its leader, Alassane Dramane Ouattara, from standing for the presidential elections. He was accused of not being an Ivorian born of a father Ivorian by birth and a mother of Ivorian nationality. After his investiture as President of the RDR and his announcement of his intention to stand for the presidential elections, Ouattara and his party became the target of the government of Henri Konan Bédié. RDR demonstrations were crushed and several of the partys leaders, including Secretary General Henriette Diabaté, were arrested and given prison sentences in December 1999. An arrest warrant was also issued for Alassane Dreamane Ouattara, who was in France at the time. It was against this tense backdrop that a military mutiny led to the overthrow of President Henri Konan Bédié, who was forced into exile in France. General Robert Gueï seized power at the head of the Conseil National de Salut Publique on 25 December 1999. The National Assembly and other institutions were dissolved. A government of national union was set up with the main opposition parties, in particular the FPI, the RDR and the PIT. For the first time since independence, the PDCI was not in the government.
The military junta announced the organisation of a constitutional referendum for July 2000 and of presidential elections for the end of the year. These votes were to be supervised by an electoral commission led by Honoré Guié. As the dates of the votes approached, however, the thorny question of the eligibility of Ouattara with regard to the criteria of nationality again arose. In May 2000, the government of national union split up, with the departure of the RDR ministers who were immediately replaced by members close to the PDFCI. The new Constitution was adopted on 23 July 2000. The presidential elections were held on 22 October without Alassane Ouattara, whose candidacy was rejected by the Supreme Court for reasons of doubtful nationality. The voters were thus left with the choice between five candidates: General Robery Gueï, the chief of the junta, Laurent Gbagbo of the FPI, Francis Wodié of the PIT, Théodore Meg El of the Union démocratique de Côte dIvoire (UDCI) and Nicolas Dioulo, an independent candidate. Fearing defeat, Robert Gueï attempted to seize control of the election by announcing the dissolution of the electoral commission and declaring himself the winner with 52.72% of the votes against 41.02% for Laurent Gbagbo, with a turnout evaluated at 37%. The supporters of the FPI organised street demonstrations, however, and were joined by members of the defence and security forces, thus forcing the chief of the junta to give way and to flee. Laurent Gbagbo was finally declared the winner by the Supreme Court with 59.36% of the votes, way ahead of Robert Gueï with 32.7%, Francis Wodié with 5.7%, Mel Théodore with 1.5% and Nicoals Dioulo with 0.8%.
The coming to power of Laurent Gbagbo brought the transition to democracy to a close in the Ivory Coast, but did not put an end to political tension. The RDR refused to recognise the results of the presidential elections and in turn demanded that the election be reorganised with its leader taking part as a candidate. The demonstrations organised by this party were severely crushed by the forces of order, and the discovery of a mass grave with 150 bodies was a sign of Ivorian society being torn apart. Political rivalries have now taken on an ethnic and religious dimension, with opposition between the north and south of the country. The second rejection of the candidacy of Ouattara by the Supreme Court led to a boycott of the general elections in almost all the constituencies of the north of the Ivory Coast, the stronghold of the RDR. The elections went ahead, however, in the rest of the country. 196 seats of the 225 in parliament were filled. The results are proof of the rise of the FPI, which won 96 seats, ahead of the PDCI-RDA with 77, the PIT with 4, the RDR , UDCI and MFA with 1 each and then 16 seats going to various independent candidates. Elections are scheduled in some constituencies for January 2001.
Despite the electoral cycle, there is still great tension in the country, with ethnic and religious splits being exacerbated. The tensions that arose in the security forces under the rule of General Gueï have not been entirely sorted out, as was shown by the placing in detention of General Palenfo and General Abdoulaye Coulibaly and the attempted uprising of armed soldiers in the night of 7 to 8 January 2001. National reconciliation and the establishment of relationships of trust are the main challenges facing the Ivorian authorities if the country is to get out of this cycle of instability.
As the transition of Ivory
Coast was controlled by the authorities at the beginning of the 1990s, there was not
a real constitutional change until the military coup détat of 24 December 1999. It
was only with the arrival of the military in power that the Constitution of 3 November
1960, which had been amended about ten times and which defined the organisation of the
country, was suspended and its institutions dissolved. A constitutional referendum was
held on 24 July 2000 and adopted a new Constitution.
This established a presidential type regime.
The President of the Republic is elected by direct universal suffrage for a term of 5 years that may be renewed just once. The Constitution stipulates that the President is alone in holding executive power and that he determines and leads the policy of the nation. He appoints and revokes the Prime Minister, who is answerable to him. On the proposal of the Prime Minister, he appoints the other members of the government. He has the initiative of the laws in conjunction with the National Assembly. He may call a referendum after consulting with the office of the National Assembly.
Legislative power is exercised by the National Assembly, composed of 2255 members elected for five years by direct universal suffrage (first past the post system by constituency). The National Assembly does not have the power to overturn the government.
The new Constitution also establishes a Constitutional Council. This is composed of a President and six advisors (the President and 3 advisors are appointed for a single term of 6 years by the President of the Republic, 3 advisors appointed by the National Assembly) as well as former Presidents of the Republic. The Council judges the constitutional validity of laws, regulates the workings of the institutions and deals with electoral disputes. Its decisions are rendered in the first and last instance. Pending its effective set-up, its role was filled provisionally by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court presided over by Tia Koné, who had the difficult task of settling all the disputes relating to the presidential and general elections of October and December 2000.
The Ivory Coast also has a Social and Economic Council which plays an advisory role.
The highest body of the
current legal system is the Supreme Court. It is composed of an administrative chamber, a
judiciary chamber and a Court of Auditors. However, the constitutional amendment of 1998
stipulates that the Supreme Court will disappear and be replaced by three autonomous
jurisdictions. The three chambers mentioned above will be replaced respectively by the
Council of State, the Court of Cassation and an Auditors Court. According to the
government, the implementation of this profound reform will be carried out gradually for
reasons of financial and human resources.
A High Court of Justice is also provided for in the Constitution of the Second Republic with the power of judging the President of the Republic in cases of high treason and the members of the government for crimes and offences committed in the exercise of their functions.
Decentralisation and Devolution
The new Constitution states
the principle of the freedom of local authorities to manage their affairs. The process of
creating communes started in 1980 with the adoption of the law of 17 October 1980 on
communes. This law was modified by that of 29 July 1985 and then by that of 3 August 1995
on municipal organisation.
The communes are run by mayors assisted by a municipal council. At each administrative level (Prefecture and Sub-Prefecture in particular) the State appoints a Prefect or a Sub-Prefect. The PDCI controls most of the countrys communes. Municipal elections are schedules for March 2000 and will certainly mark the end of the dominance of the PDCI over the country.
There are about forty
parties, but only about ten of them are viable. The four main parties (of which the first
three are represented in the Assembly) are:
The PDCI-RDA: founded in 1946 by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, in power from 1960-1999. It lost is parliamentary majority for the first time in the general elections of 10 December 2001. None of its candidates could stand for the presidential elections in October 2000 for reasons of disqualification.
The FPI: founded in 1982 by Laurent Gbagbo, current President of Ivory Coast. The FPI was the main opposition party at the time of the dominance of the PDCI.
The RDR (Rassemblement des Républicains): founded in 1994, led by the late Djény Kobina. Its current leader is former Prime Minister Alassane Dramane Ouattara. This party was absent from the 2000 general and presidential elections
The PIT (Parti Ivoirien des Travailleurs) founded in 1990, a party with Marxist tendencies. Led by Francis Wodié.
In this field, pluralism is
recognised by the Constitution. During the mobilisation in favour of democracy, certain
unions played a major role. Such was the case of the Secondary Teachers Union of
Ivory Coast (SYNESCI) and of the National Research and Higher Education Union (SYNARES).
The union movement also includes the agricultural producers (coffee, cocoa) who often
confront the authorities on the subject of the prices of their products. However, the
connections between the major producers and the authorities restrict the potential of
these associations to mobilise people. The union that causes the authorities the greatest
problems is, without a doubt, the Federation of Students and School Students of Ivory
Coast (FESCI). It is constantly rebelling against the authorities and is thus seen as
being a real threat. It was banned for six months in 1997. The police sometimes intervene
on Cocody campus and attack the students demonstrating in the streets. The students
consider that they have been the victims of police violence, especially since the
nocturnal police raid at the university residence of Yopougon on the night of 17-18 May
1991. The recent student violence of April-May 1999 led to the arrest of more than 200
pupils and students. In 2000, with the approach of the presidential elections, the student
movement went through crises between the factions supporting different members of the
leadership of the FESCI. The clashes were sometime violent and required intervention of
the security forces to separate the antagonists.
Several organisations are
active in the field of human rights, such as the Ivorian division of Amnesty
International, the Christian Association for the Abolition of Torture and the Respect of
Human Rights and the Ivorian League of Human Rights. However, the opposition, students and
taxi-drivers in particular frequently accuse the police of violence and often claim that
there are trials of opponents for political reasons.
Several political and union leaders, including Laurent Gbagbo, were thus imprisoned after the violent demonstrations of February 1992 and were only released five months later after a law of amnesty was passed by Parliament. The President of the Ivorian League of Human Rights, René Degni-Segui, has been arrested several times in the past. The written press close to the opposition has not been spared by this repression aiming to deprive Ivorians of access to information. The military regime did not put an end to these violations and it was under this system that the most large-scale violations of human rights were recorded. Arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, torture, assassination and rape this violence reached its peak with the discovery of a mass greave containing 157 bodies in Yopougon, a quarter of Abidjan, with several sources suggesting that the gendarmerie was involved in the massacre. The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Reporters sans Frontières advised the Ivorian government, in a report published on 22 December 2000, to seek out and try those responsible for these murders.
Since 1991, the press has
been governed by law n° 91-1003 of 31 December 1991 establishing the legal status of the
press, law n° 91-1034 on the status of professional journalists and the law on
audiovisual communication. A national press commission and national audiovisual
communication council (CNCA) have been created.
The written press is very varied with about a dozen dailies and about thirty other periodicals.
The main papers are:
Governmental press: Fraternité Matin, IvoirSoir, Ivoire-Dimanche. Alongside these publications, there are other independent papers or publications linked with political parties: Le Jour, La Voie (FPI), Inter, Le Patriote (RDR), Le Populaire, Libération, Le National, Nouvel Horizon etc.
There are two public radio stations Radio Côte dIvoire and Fréquence 2. Private national (Radio Nostalgie) and international (RFI, BBC, Africa n°1) stations also broadcast on FM in Abidjan. There are two major public TV stations and non-government channels, especially the international ones such as TV5 and Canal France International.