Supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, who lives in Belgium after being acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court last year, submitted his candidacy for October’s presidential election – even though his name had already been removed from the list of contenders.
The move on Monday came as supporters of Guillaume Soro – a former rebel leader who has also been barred from running and lives in exile in France – filed his application to become an official candidate, too.
Ivory Coast’s electoral commission has disqualified both men due to their criminal convictions, and it is unlikely that the Constitutional Court will clear their bids to unseat President Alassane Ouattara in the October 31 vote.
Candidates have until Monday midnight to submit their dossiers with the commission, which said it expects to receive a total of 40 submissions.
The Constitutional Council then has 15 days to release the list of approved candidates for the election, seen as a major test of stability in the world’s top cocoa producer and one of Africa’s most vibrant economies over the past 10 years.
“We have just submitted the candidacy file of our political leader, [former] President Laurent Gbagbo, the father of democracy in Ivory Coast,” said Georges-Armand Ouegnin, president of the pro-Gbagbo coalition called Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), alleging that the commission’s move was political.
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.
Last year, Gbagbo was acquitted at The Hague of crimes against humanity charges linked to his alleged role in the civil war that erupted after the 2010 election. Although he was acquitted, Gbagbo, 75, was ordered to remain in Brussels and to relinquish his passport.
Back home, he was sentenced in absentia to a 20-year term for the “looting” of the local branch of the Central Bank of the West African States during the post-election violence. He could be jailed if he were to set foot in Ivory Coast.
Soro, meanwhile, was sentenced in April to 20 years in prison for “concealment of embezzlement of public funds”.
The 47-year-old had led the rebels that swept Ouattara to power during the civil war. He went on to serve as prime minister and speaker of parliament under Ouattara but the two men later fell out.
On Monday, Soro’s relatives and supporters of Soro also called for his candidacy to be validated, with spokeswoman Aminata Kone-Zie accusing the government of subterfuge “to make our president [Soro] ineligible under an alleged criminal conviction”.
The deadline for the candidacy applications came amid rising political tensions in the country ahead of the election. At least eight people were killed and about 100 wounded in clashes that erupted after Ouattara announced earlier this month his decision to run for a controversial third term.
Ouattara had initially said he would not stand again for the October election, 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 term.
Opposition and civil society groups say his move to stand again in the vote amounts to a “coup”.
Last week, two main opposition leaders – Pascal Affi N’Guessan of the Ivorian Popular Front party of former President Laurent Gbagbo and former President Henri Konan Bedie, 86, for the PDCI-RDA party – submitted their dossiers.