Two main opposition leaders in Ivory Coast, who pose the strongest threat to incumbent President Alassane Ouattara, have filed their names to become official candidates for their parties ahead of October elections.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan of the Ivorian Popular Front party of former President Laurent Gbagbo presented on Thursday his candidacy after the courts rejected a bid from the former president to run again.
N’Guessan, a former prime minister and telecoms engineer, is running against Ouattara for a second time after losing to him in the 2015 presidential election with about 9.2 percent of votes.
He presents himself as a “unifying” candidate, though his own party faces internal struggles with some members loyal to Gbagbo.
Supporters of the former president, who lives in Belgium after being acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court last year, on Wednesday said they will file candidacy in his name for the October 31 elections.
On Tuesday, though, a court confirmed the decision of the electoral commission to not include Gbagbo in the rolls because of criminal convictions.
Gbagbo was sentenced in absentia to a 20-year term last November for the “looting” of the local branch of the Central Bank of the West African States (BCEAO) during the civil war.
The former president’s supporters say Ouattara’s government is trying to silence political opponents before the election.
Gbagbo’s return to national politics is highly sensitive as the country remains scarred by a conflict that erupted after presidential elections in 2010 when Gbagbo refused to accept defeat and hand over power to Ouattara.
The other member who filed his candidacy is former president Henri Konan Bedie for the PDCI-RDA party. The 86-year-old led the country from 1993-1999.
The two opposition leaders object to Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term in the October elections, calling his candidacy unconstitutional. Opposition parties have called on him to withdraw his candidacy.
Ouattara, who has been in power since 2010, had initially said he would not stand again, but changed his mind following the sudden death of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, his anointed successor.
The constitution limits presidents to two terms, but Ouattara and his supporters argue that a 2016 constitutional tweak reset the clock, allowing him to seek a third.
Opposition and civil society groups say his move to stand again in the vote amounts to a “coup”.
Following his controversial re-election announcement, deadly protests erupted in which at least eight people were killed and about 100 wounded.