If international investors looked on the legislative elections as a test to see if the new Ivorian government was up to the task, they probably came away happier than expected. Unlike under the previous government, an ambitious election timetable was given and the promises kept, and the vote passed off almost entirely peacefully. Turnout was down on the presidential elections for a large number of reasons, but still above the previous parliamentary elections of 2000, which is probably the most logical benchmark with which to judge these things.
The victory in 50% of seats for the president’s RDR party, confirms its place after 17 years in existence as the key political force in the country. After a history of boycotts and exclusions for the party leader, its participation has underlined what RDR supporters always claimed about their internal organisation and mobilisation abilities. It has done nothing to diminish perceptions of the RDR as dominated by northerners.
Correspondingly, the results showed the former one-party monopoly, the PDCI, to be the junior partner in the ruling coalition. As in any system political system with three major political persuasions, a future PDCI-FPI alliance could threaten the RDR, but for the time being things look safe for the rest of the president’s mandate, and also for re-election in 2015. The PDCI will soon have to address the thorny question of who succeeds Bedie as the next presidential candidate – no-one stands out as a real challenger for Ouattara, who would have to get things really wrong to push voters to voting him out.
The results pose a number of questions for the pro-Gbagbo camp, whose boycott did reduce voter turnout, but also sees them excluded from the legislative chamber and (to my knowledge) state party funding for five years. They’ve made their point about being unhappy at Gbagbo’s transfer to The Hague. But given the reality that he’s now there and that there’s little anyone can do to stop him being there for around five years at least, the FPI need to find a way to move on and work out how they can create a credible challenge to Ouattara in 2015. Participating in Spring’s municipal elections would be a start, and there’ll be no shortage of international pressure on Ouattara to engage with the opposition, who in several recent speeches seem determined to plead that they are still a major force in Ivorian politics.
The boycott and perhaps more importantly, the wider sense of exclusion felt by members of the key pro-Gbagbo ethnic groups (the Bete-Abbey-Dida, plus other groups from the south-west), is perhaps the key challenge to national reconciliation. Their sense of exclusion from political life in their own country will need to be dealt with politically – for even with the noticeable infrastructure development in Gbagbo’s home town, Gagnoa, this is not an economic/development-based debate. The great risk is not only that a major part of Ivorian society feel like the victims, but also that the country sees a re-run of the boycott-coup dynamic that was seen in 1995-99 and 2000-2.