Cote d’Ivoire has been hit by protests over the proposed constitution which was passed by its Parliament. The opposition which has close to no members in the Parliament due to an election boycott has called the document a step backward in democracy yet the leader of the country, Alassane Outtara has said the new constitution will turn the page on a decade of political turmoil and civil war. With wide overarching implications on the political scene, the proposed Constitution has resulted in disagreements informed by diverse political differences.
Protesters arrested and dispersed using teargas
Reuters reports that police in riot gear used teargas and arrested protesters gathering in Abidjan to demonstrate against the new draft constitution. The draft is to be put to a vote on the 30th of October and opposition parties have called for a boycott of the referendum. The police broke up the planned march in the Ivorian commercial capital, firing teargas and allegedly striking protestors with batons. Speaking as he was carried away, opposition politician Mamadou Koulibaly said, “We came here democratically to say no to this constitution, and Mr Ouattara is throwing us in prison. He can keep doing this but we will also continue.” Koulibaly, a former President of the National Assembly also said, “This is Ouattara’s democracy.”
“We are on the path to boycott,” said another opposition politician, Pascal Affi Nguessan, president of the FPI founded by Gbagbo, during the protest Thursday. This was in reference to the resolution by the coalition of opposition parties to boycott the referendum. Government spokesman Bruno Kone said he was not aware of the incident while an interior ministry communications official declined to comment.
What really is in the draft constitution?
Ouattara promised during his re-election campaign last year to remove the constitution's requirement for presidential candidates to have parents who are both born in Ivory Coast. This had been armoury in the hands of other parties as some asserted that he was not constitutionally fit to run for presidency in the country. For citizens in the north of the country, the clause was an instrument used against them to further prejudicial ends. The proposed revision to the constitution, seen by Reuters and approved by parliament on Wednesday, means only one parent must now be "Ivorian by origin". This should silence his critics of the birther movement and cement his legitimacy in a country which has had two civil wars since the turn of the millennium. However, in as much as it is a political move, it will be the adhesive the country needs to blur the definitive lines of nationality that form the basis of the unfairness and prejudice.
In as much as this clause has a bright side, the proposed scrapping of the 75 year age limit for presidency raises eyebrows. Indications might be that Ouattara hopes to stay in power well beyond 75. In 2020, when the country is expected to go for the next presidential elections, Outtara will be 78. The proposed constitution is also questionably lowering the number of votes needed to amend the constitution from four-fifths to two-thirds, also removing the clause that necessitates a public referendum for changes to presidential mandates. The draft also proposes an introduction of the vice presidency in the country as well as a Senate. A third of senators will be appointed by the President and the rest chosen through an indirect election process. The Vice president will complete the mandate of the president in case he fails to do so.
The opposition has been highly critical of both the drafting process claiming it lacked transparency and the substantive provisions in the draft document. Thursday’s protest was meant to send a message to the Ouattara regime which succeeded Gbagbo’s FPI. In 2010 when Ouattara ascended to power, Gbagbo challenged the results, alleging fraud. The Constitutional Council of the country declared him the winner while Ouattara was declared winner and recognized by the international community, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. Democratic exchange of power in the country is still a fragile concept and the constitutional provisions Ouattara hopes the Ivorians will vote for will potentially threaten all the progress made thus far.