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Ivory Coast political rivalries spark new fears of violence

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Millions of people in Ivory Coast on Saturday will cast ballots in a high-stakes election that, until recently, was seen by many as as opportunity to help usher in a new generation of leaders.

Instead, due to a series of both expected and unexpected events, voters have witnessed the rerun of an old – and increasingly tense – political drama.

The four candidates, approved by the Constitutional Council, are President Alassane Ouattara, 78; former President Henri Konan Bedie, 86; former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, 67; and independent candidate Kouadio Konan Bertin, 51.

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Once again, the key figures in the polls are all familiar names, part of the continuous making-and-breaking of alliances that has shaped politics in the country for decades.

Six months ago, things seemed different.

But on July 8, Coulibaly passed away unexpectedly. His death plunged the country into uncertainty, leading to mounting speculation over who would replace him as the flagbearer for the governing Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RDHP) party.

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One month later, Ouattara formally announced that he would accept his party’s nomination and run for a controversial third term, describing the decision as a “response to the call of citizens” and a “sacrifice”.

The president says constitutional amendments introduced in 2016 effectively reset the countdown clock on the two-term limit and allow him to run again.

But the opposition and critics insist the move is unconstitutional. The president’s main challengers – Bedie and Affi N’Guessan, have called for a civil disobedience campaign and a boycott of the electoral process, which they allege is rigged in favour of Ouattara. The opposition leaders, however, have yet to announce they are pulling out of the race.

Saturday’s polls are seen as a major test of stability in a country still recovering from months of post-election violence in 2010 and 2011 that killed some 3,000 people.

Over the past 10 years, Ouattara has received many plaudits for the country’s economic successes, including managing skyrocketing growth rates in what is the world’s top cocoa producer and a major finance hub in West Africa. Critics, however, say the economic gains have not been fairly distributed and accuse Ouattara of veering towards authoritarianism.

The opposition has long accused the electoral commission of bias, and there have also been complaints that voter registration has been a costly and time-consuming process for many. As of October 25, the commission said only 41.5 percent of registered voters had collected their voter identification cards.—AL JAZEERA

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