Exiled Ivory Coast opposition leader Guillaume Soro said President Alassane Ouattara’s plans to seek a third term may inflame tensions as the country prepares for elections.
The world’s biggest cocoa producer has been buffeted by deadly protests since Ouattara, 78, on Aug. 6 reversed a pledge to step down after two terms and said he’ll be a candidate in the Oct. 31 vote. That sparked opposition demonstrations and a security crackdown in which at least five people died and 100 others were wounded.
“He’s going to burn Ivory Coast,” Soro, 48, said in a phone interview from Paris. “His candidacy is a great shame and an insult to the Ivorian people. It is a catastrophe for Africa.”
The Ivorian presidency and the government spokesman didn’t answer their phones or respond to text messages when Bloomberg sought comment.
Ouattara has drawn widespread praise for restoring stability and attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment for highways, bridges and other infrastructure projects in Ivory Coast. That’s helped spur average annual economic growth of least 7% since 2012.
READ: The Rebel Turned Politician Who Wants to Rule Ivory Coast
Elections in Ivory Coast are fractious times for investors. Two previous presidential ballots have been marred by violence that led the country to twice default on its external debt, according to Fitch Ratings.
“Ouattara’s decision to run for a new term as president of Ivory Coast has raised the risk of backlash from the opposition, stoking political instability around the election,” it said in an Aug. 7 report.
Ouattara, who’s ruled Ivory Coast since 2011, filed his intention to run at the electoral commission on Monday. The law limits presidents to two terms, but Ouattara argues the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 allows him to run again. A constitutional panel is expected to announce the final list of presidential candidates by mid-September.
Soro said the president’s bid for a third term is a “constitutional coup” and that the opposition insists on “strict respect of the constitution.”
As a rebel leader, Soro emerged as one of Ouattara’s most loyal allies in the aftermath of a failed 2002 coup that split the country into a rebel-held north and a government-run south. Soro resigned as president of the National Assembly in 2019 when it became clear that Ouattara preferred other ruling party figures to succeed him.
Soro registered as a candidate for the elections in October. He’s been in France since December, when he was forced to divert his Abidjan-bound flight in mid-air when news reached him that a warrant for his arrest had been issued by the Ivorian authorities.
In April, an Ivorian court convicted Soro in absentia of embezzlement and money laundering and sentenced him to 20 years in jail. The state also alleges he was involved in a 2017 coup plot. Soro denies any wrongdoing.
Soro insists he’ll run in October as an independent candidate, despite the electoral commission’s announcement last week he’s been removed from the voters’ roll. He declined to comment on when he plans to return to the country.