Ivory Coast leader says fears of age limit for presidential candidates unfounded

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara reacts during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied landings in Provence in World War Two which helped liberate southern France, in Boulouris, France, August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Pool/File Photo

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara said on Tuesday a planned revision of the constitution would not include an age limit for presidential candidates, seeking to dispel fears that his main rivals would be unable to contest an October election.

A rise in tensions in recent weeks between Ouattara and his opponents has raised fears of election-related violence in Ivory Coast, francophone West Africa’s largest economy, where a disputed 2010 vote set off a civil war that killed 3,000 people.

Ouattara said earlier this month that he intends to revise the constitution ahead of the election to make it “more coherent” but has not provided details.

“There will be no change in the constitution to prevent anyone from being a candidate,” Ouattara told Reuters on the sidelines of a briefing at think-tank Chatham House in London.

“The new constitution (says) anyone can be a candidate, no age limit and I don’t intend to change that.”

Some opposition leaders have speculated that Ouattara, who is 78, will reimpose the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates that was removed from a new constitution he championed in 2016.

That would exclude himself but also his main rivals, former presidents Laurent Gbagbo, who turns 75 in May, and Henri Konan Bedie, who is 85, from running.

Ouattara said late last year he would seek a third term if his predecessors decided to compete.

He told Reuters he would make an announcement by July on whether he would seek re-election, fearing instability and a ‘lame duck’ presidency if he decides not to run and makes it known months in advance of an election.

Gbagbo and Bedie have also not yet said whether they will run.

Gbagbo was acquitted earlier this year of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for his role in the war but remains in Europe pending an appeal by the prosecution.

Political tensions in Ivory Coast have risen since last month, when the public prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for presidential candidate Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader whose forces swept Ouattara to power in 2011.

Soro, currently in Europe, denies charges that he plotted a coup against Ouattara and says they are politically motivated.

Addressing delegates at the London gathering, Ouattara said the process of adapting Ivory Coast’s electoral code to the new constitution should be completed by February.

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