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Ivorian president Ouattara launches new political coalition as presidential vote looms

Ivory Coast

The new “unified party” of the Rally for Democracy and Peace or Rassemblement des houphouëtistes pour la démocratie et la paix (RHDP) was launched Monday in Côte d’Ivoire, headed by the Ivorian president, Alassane Ouattara, two years before the next presidential election.

“The “constituent general assembly” of the new movement was held in the afternoon in a large hotel in Abidjan. Delegates from several political parties and personalities in favour of the new unified party adopted “unanimously” the statutes after an hour of debate, and unsurprisingly designated as leader Mr. Ouattara, who was the only declared candidate, according to a statement.

In a second step, a “founding congress” will ratify the creation of the RHDP by the end of the year, according to one official.

Launched one week after a cabinet shuffle, the RHDP includes the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR), the party of President Ouattara, the Union for Democracy and Peace in Côte d’Ivoire (UDPCI – six deputies), chaired by Albert Toikeusse Mabri, and personalities from other parties.

The Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), one of the two main parties in the ruling coalition, refused to join the RHDP, dissatisfied with the terms of the proposed alliance. He demanded as a prerequisite to the union that a personality from his ranks be the sole candidate of the RHDP for the next presidential election. The RDR refused, although the PDCI supported Ouattara in previous presidential elections in 2010 and 2015.

However, a number of elected officials and PDCI executives have chosen to join the RHDP. A dozen of them were appointed ministers in the new cabinet.

In his speech before the activists of the new RHDP, President Ouattara launched an appeal to the president of the PDCI, Henri Konan Bédié.

“We must stay together”, “is that I will tell my elder,” said Mr. Ouattara, recalling past victories achieved through the union, especially during the dark hours of the post-election crisis of 2010-2011, which had concluded the decade of political-military crisis of the years 2000.

“I want the rally. Discussions must continue between the two presidents (Bédié and Ouattara). We do not want to fall back into violence,” Guy Kanga, secretary of a PDCI section in Bouaké – the second Ivorian city – present at the general assembly, told AFP.

Personalities from three other small political parties have also joined the RHDP: the Union pour la Côte d’Ivoire (UPCI, 3 deputies), the Mouvement des forces d’avenir (MFA) and the Parti ivoirien des travailleurs (PIT).

The situation is confusing for these three small parties. Their congresses voted against union with the RHDP, but then dissent appeared, with attempts at putsch internally, which are the subject of legal proceedings. Some of these “dissidents” have been appointed to government.

“It is difficult to speak of a large unified party, since the RDR finds itself with satellite parties representing only a few percent of the electorate,” comments political scientist Sylvain N’Guessan, director of the Abidjan Institute of Strategy. “This is not what President Ouattara dreamed of. It has attracted PDCI decision-makers, but the party’s base remains refractory.

The RHDP “creates confusion in the Ivorian political arena. Can the RHDP exist without the PDCI,” says Pierre Dagbo Gode, professor of political science at Félix Houphouët Boigny University in Abidjan. “Under these conditions, no one will win the presidential election in the first round” in 2020.

Referring to these elections, President Ouattara hammered: “We will win” with the RHDP. But then he talked about his succession at the end of his second term.

“President Bédié and I must work to hand over power to a new generation in 2020,” Ouattara said, garnering thunderous applause from the audience.

Ouattara, 76, had left doubts about his intention to stand for a third term in 2020, in principle defended by the 2016 Constitution, which allows only two. However, the drafting of this constitution leaves some legal uncertainty on the issue.

Mr. Ouattara said last week that he would indicate his precise intention during his address to the Nation on August 6, the day before Independence Day.

Henri Konan Bédié, president of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), the second major party in the ruling coalition, which remains mysterious about its intentions for 2020, is him octogenarian.

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