Ivory Coast’s 86-year-old former president Henri Konan Bedie said Sunday that “age is an asset” ahead of being declared his opposition party’s candidate for 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 of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly earlier this month.
Coulibaly was a popular figure, seen as the anointed successor of President Alassane Ouattara, who had ruled out standing for re-election on October 31.
But Coulibaly’s death has stirred speculation that Ouattara could run after all.
Bedie, 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 Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI), which held a convention in Abidjan on Sunday to select its candidate.
– ‘There is no age limit’ –
Around 9,000 delegates will vote at 388 polling stations across the country in the party’s primary, but the result is not in doubt — Bedie is the only contestant. The result is expected to be announced at noon on Monday.
“For us at the PDCI, age is an asset,” Bedie told reporters after casting his vote. “Age brings together experience as well as competence.”
Opponents of Bedie, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2000 and 2010, have criticised 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.”
Bedie’s previous presidency came at a time when Ivory Coast was a haven of peace and stability in restive West Africa, before the coup that removed him from power, a low-lying civil war, and the bloody political unrest that followed.
Bedie said he hoped to “fulfil a mission of public safety to restore Ivory Coast”.
– The Sphinx of Daoukro –
Dubbed the “sphinx of Daoukro” after both his native town and his economy with words, Bedie was mentored by Ivory Coast’s founding president Felix Houphouet-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 RHDP party from 2011 to 2018, but the alliance broke up over the question of who would be the 2020 presidential candidate.
Some analysts now expect Bedie will face Ouattara, 76, despite the president saying in March he would not stand again to make way for “the new generation” — a comment seen as a reference to Bedie’s presidential aspirations.
But after Coulibaly’s death from a heart attack, Ouattara’s ruling RHDP party has struggled to find an alternative candidate for the October 31 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 has reset the clock, enabling him to potentially run again.
Ivory Coast’s third major national party, the Ivorian Popular Front (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 a 2011 election 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 prosecutors are appealing the ruling. AFP