ABIDJAN, September 15 ------ Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council on Monday ruled that President Alassane Ouattara is eligible to run for a third term in the Oct. 31 presidential election, even as opponents said his candidacy jeopardizes the West African country’s democracy. Violent protests have rocked Ivory Coast since Ouattara, in power since 2010, announced his candidacy. Over a dozen people have died in clashes between protesters and police since August.
The constitution says the president can only stay in power for two terms, but Ouattara has argued that the publication of a new constitution in 2016 reset his presidency. The unrest has political observers worried that the vote could destabilize Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer and French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy. A disputed election in 2010 led to a brief civil war that killed over 3,000 people.
The council whittled down an initial list of 44 candidates to just four. It ruled out Ouattara rivals, including former President Laurent Gbagbo, who was acquitted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity charges last year, and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, both of whom reside outside Ivory Coast but command strong followings inside the country. Their candidacies were rejected because they were not present on the electoral list, the council said.
The candidacy of another former president, Henri Konan Bedie, was approved. Ivory Coast has been on edge ahead of the eagerly awaited ruling by the council. Police fired tear gas on Monday to break up demonstrations against Ouattara’s decision to run again. Protesters set up barricades and shut down traffic in several towns, including the commercial capital Abidjan, where a burning bus sent high plumes of black smoke from the densely-populated Yopougon district. Demonstrators also torched a truck in the western city of Bangolo, witnesses said. Ouattara had announced in March that he will not run, but revised his decision after the sudden death of his handpicked successor Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly in July.