Alassane Ouattara has won a third term in power in the Ivory Coast after an election boycotted by the opposition.
The 78-year old president, who had once pledged to make way for a younger generation, took 94% of the vote, according to provisional results. Two terms in office is widely seen as the limit set by the west African country’s 2016 constitution.
The constitutional council is still to ratify the result, after considering likely legal challenges. Main opposition candidates condemned Ouattara’s attempt to win a third term as illegal and had urged their supporters to stay at home as an act of civil disobedience.
Political crisis has consumed the Ivory Coast following the death of Ouattara’s planned successor in July, the prime minister, Amadou Gon Coulibaly. Ouattara had been expected to leave office but reneged on his pledge, arguing the constitution did not prevent him. The disqualification of 40 opposition candidates and criticisms from his two main challengers ramped up tensions in a country where the spectre of electoral violence looms large.
Thousands have fled to neighbouring Ghana in recent weeks, fearing the possibility of the same sort of post-election violence that claimed 3,000 lives in 2010. In the run-up to Saturday’s vote, protests against Ouattara had grown, particularly in opposition strongholds. Clashes with rival groups and a forceful response by security forces left at least 30 people dead, according to Amnesty International. Five more peope were killed on the day of the vote.
The Carter Center, a US NGO tjat monitored the election, expressed “concerns that the overall context and process did not allow for a genuinely competitive election”.
“The process excluded a number of Ivorian political forces and was hampered by an active boycott by a segment of the population and a volatile security environment,” it added.
The former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, a leading opponent of Ouattara, decried the result as illegitimate. “This was a sham election … marred by many irregularities and a low turnout,” he told reporters on Monday when it was clear Ouattara was on course for victory. N’Guessan vowed to form an alternative “transitional government”, deepening political tensions with Ouattara’s government.
“The opposition parties and groups announce the creation of a council of national transition,” N’Guessan told reporters. Yet divisions within his own party, the Ivorian Popular Front, and among other senior figures in a weakened opposition, has left the plan in doubt.
The president’s supporters cite a 2016 constitutional change they say means Ouattara’s first term effectively did not count.
Amid deepening insecurity across much of west Africa, third-term bids and attempts to amend national constitutions have re-emerged in recent years in Guinea, the Gambia and Ivory Coast. The moves have fuelled disillusionment, particularly among younger populations who seek greater representation in government, transparency and freedoms.
Ouattara, a former rebel leader, along with both main opposition figures, the 86-year-old former president, Henri Konan Bédié, and 67-year-old N’Guessan, are among an ageing political class that have maintained their grip of Ivorian politics for years.
The president, an ally of western governments and the former colonial power France, enjoys international support. Yet despite significant economic growth, driven by its powerful agricultural sector, more than half of the country lives in poverty according to the World Bank.
The imprisonment of political figures and the disqualification of almost 40 opposition candidates before the election have driven growing criticisms of authoritarianism under Ouattara’s government.