Supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who lives in Belgium after being acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year, have said they will file his candidacy in his name for the country’s highly anticipated election.
Political tensions are running high in the world’s top cocoa grower ahead of the October 31 vote, seen as a key test for one of Africa’s most vibrant economies over the past decade.
At least eight people have been killed and about 100 wounded in clashes that have erupted since President Alassane Ouattara announced earlier this month his decision to run for a controversial third term.
A pro-Gbagbo coalition called Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS) said on Wednesday in a statement “it will submit president Laurent Gbagbo’s candidacy, in line with scheduled procedures”.
Gbagbo’s return to national politics is highly sensitive.
The country remains scarred by a conflict that erupted after presidential elections in 2010 when Gbagbo – in office since 2000 – refused to accept defeat and hand over power to Ouattara.
About 3,000 people lost their lives in several months of violence that ensued.
Following the civil war, Gbagbo was sent to the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity. He was freed conditionally by the ICC after he was cleared last year.
The 75-year-old is living in Brussels pending the outcome of an appeal against that decision. In the meantime, he can travel, provided that the country of destination accepts him.
He has not made any public statement about whether he wishes to run again.
In early August, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the headquarters of the country’s electoral commission to demand Gbagbo, his ally Charles Ble Goude and former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro be included in the electoral list.
The electoral commission said the three were not included because of criminal convictions and that it will consider appeals against their exclusion. But their supporters say Ouattara’s government is trying to silence political opponents before the election.
On Tuesday, a court confirmed the decision of the commission to strike off Gbagbo from the rolls, his lawyer said.
“It’s a definitive no,” Claude Mentenon told AFP news agency, adding that there was no further legal recourse inside Ivory Coast.
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.
Candidates for the October 31 elections have until midnight on Monday to file their bid, and do not have to be present physically to do so, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI), Ibrahime Coulibaly-Kuibiert, told AFP.
Ouattara, 78, has already filed his candidacy.
He 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”, and his re-election announcement earlier this month sparked deadly protests.