The party of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has said it is ending a 10-year election boycott, a move that coincides with efforts to end a protracted political crisis.
“The Ivorian Popular Front (FPI)… will participate in the legislative elections” scheduled for the first quarter of 2021, the party announced in a statement Wednesday after a meeting of its central committee.
The party pledged to “equip itself to win” the vote and work with other opposition parties.
The announcement coincides with measures to reduce a months-long crisis triggered by President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term – a move that the opposition calls unconstitutional.
Ouattara, 78, won the October 31 vote by a landslide as all the main opposition candidates boycotted the ballot box.
Opposition groups said Ouattara violated the constitution, which limits presidents to two terms.
Ouattara had argued that the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed him to resume his mandate.
When Ouattara was declared the winner, the opposition cried foul and announced a rival “transitional government” in protest.
Several opposition leaders have been arrested and legal proceedings for “sedition” have been launched against them.
Pre- and post-election violence has killed at least 85 people since August, according to an official report.
‘Most willing to participate’
Gbagbo, 75, was overthrown in 2011 after refusing to concede defeat to Ouattara in the presidential elections, sparking violence that left around 3,000 dead.
The Ouattara camp recently held talks with the opposition and the president himself offered an olive branch to his former rival.
Gbagbo and his former right-hand man, Charles Blé Goude, 48, were tried for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
They were acquitted in 2019 and remain free pending the outcome of an appeal. Gbagbo is currently in Brussels.
The FPI, which was in power under Gbagbo from 2000 to 2010, boycotted all elections after its leader was arrested in 2011 and transferred to the ICC.
Party secretary general Assoa Adou told AFP news agency: “Most members are ready to take part in the elections and President Gbagbo is in favor.”
The party is divided into a pro-Gbagbo faction and another led by its former prime minister, Pascal Affi N’Guessan. He and several other opposition leaders are in custody for treason for seeking to put in place a “transitional” government after the elections.
Ouattara has said on several occasions in recent months that he favors his rival’s return, apparently seeing the potential to ease the mood of the public.
On December 4, Gbagbo’s lawyer said he had obtained an ordinary passport and a diplomatic passport from Ivorian authorities and that he planned to return home this month.
Political analyst Rodrigue Kone said the FPI’s announcement was “very good news for democracy” in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The return of the FPI, the most combative party in the country, the most popular among the people and the best able to mobilize supporters, will create strong competition” in the elections, he declared.
“It will reshape the political arena.”
Another commentator, Sylvain N’Guessan, said the legislative elections would be seen by the FPI as a stepping stone towards the next presidential election, scheduled for 2025.
“The stake of this electoral return is that the party reconquers its bastions in the south, the west and the east of the Ivory Coast, so that it can position itself as the first opposition party”, a he declared.