Valentin Robiliard - Analyst

Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on 8 July, depriving the governing Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) of their leading candidate for the October presidential election.

  • Gon Coulibaly’s death is a major upset for the RHDP nomination process and the electoral cycle, and will drive uncertainty as the ruling party seeks a new candidate.
  • With no other obvious candidate in the RHDP to succeed President Alassane Ouattara, the president could very well go back on his earlier decision not to run, and announce a last-minute re-election bid.
  • Such a run, particularly against his old rival, former president Henri Konan Bedié (1993-99), would provide for a highly personalised and tightly contested race, raising threats to stability around the polls.

Death of Gon Coulibaly

Secretary-General of the Presidency Patrick Achi on the evening of 8 July announced Gon Coulibaly’s death on state Radio-Television Ivoirienne (RTI). The prime minister reportedly fell ill during the weekly cabinet meeting and was taken to a hospital in the commercial capital Abidjan, where he died. Gon Coulibaly had returned on 2 July from a two-month stay in France, where he had been hospitalised for heart problems. He had undergone major heart surgery in 2012 and was known to have heart issues.

Reshuffling the cards

Gon Coulibaly’s death is a major upset to the electoral cycle. After Ouattara in March announced he would not seek re-election, he designated long-time loyalist Gon Coulibaly as his preferred successor. Despite some RHDP contention over Gon Coulibaly’s health and perceived lack of charisma, the party had selected Gon Coulibaly as its presidential candidate and was due to officially appoint him during a party congress in late July. His death will prompt a renewed scramble for the RHDP presidential nomination.

Although presidential hopefuls could make their intentions known in the coming weeks, there is no other obvious choice in the RHDP. Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko, who acted as interim prime minister in Gon Coulibaly’s absence, has long been eyeing a presidential run, while Vice-President Daniel Kablan Duncan, Achi and a few others have also been tipped as potential candidates. However, none of them truly command the backing of Ouattara and the wider party necessary for the role.

As a result, Ouattara could very well go back on his March decision and decide to stand again. Before his March announcement, Ouattara had long hinted he would run if his longstanding rivals decided to stand. With Bedié highly likely to secure the presidential nomination of the opposition Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) in late July, Ouattara could decide to stand. 

Volatile polls

A Ouattara candidacy, particularly against Bedié, would result in a highly volatile electoral cycle. The opposition would be likely to denounce Ouattara’s candidacy as a violation of the two-term limit on presidential terms, though the president would argue he is allowed to run under the terms of the 2016 constitution. The opposition would also continue to denounce pro-ruling camp bias in electoral preparations, including the structure of the electoral commission and the revision of the electoral roll.

Meanwhile, former president Laurent Gbagbo (2000-11) and former parliamentary speaker Guillaume Soro – both currently abroad and unable to return to Côte d’Ivoire given legal proceedings against them – could denounce their inability to return as a sign of Ouattara’s growing authoritarianism. Additionally, the historical Ouattara-Bedié rivalry would be likely to see the re-emergence of polarising rhetoric around identity, which has characterised their previous contests. 

Such a race would be likely to see protests, clashes between rival political supporters, potential violence against or between security forces, allegations of fraud, contention over the results, and unrest lasting for several days or weeks after the polls. Although a repeat of the 2010-11 post-election crisis remains unlikely, operators should prepare for a turbulent electoral cycle in October.

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