A former president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo has said Saturday’s presidential election spells “disaster” for the country and called for dialogue. It’s Gbagbo’s first public comments since he was toppled in 2011.
The Constitutional Council had last month cleared four candidates to run in the country’s high-stakes election on October 31, whittling down an initial list of 44 presidential hopefuls. Among them, controversially, was incumbent 78-years-old President Alassane Ouattara.
The West African nation, the world’s top cocoa producer, has been rocked by deadly clashes since Ouattara announced his candidacy, sparking fears of instability in a country still recovering from months of post-election violence that killed some 3,000 people in 2010 and 2011.
“What awaits us is disaster. This is why I am speaking out. People should know that I am against heading for disaster with our hands tied. We have to talk,” former president Gbagbo told French channel TV5 Monde in an interview broadcast on Thursday.
The 75-year-old did the interview in Belgium, where he is awaiting the outcome of proceedings against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) arising from a civil war sparked by his refusal to accept electoral defeat in 2010.
Gbagbo retains a powerful following in Ivory Coast but has been barred by the country’s paramount court, the Constitutional Council, from contesting the elections on legal grounds.
He was handed a 20-year jail term in absentia by an Ivorian court last November over the looting of the Central Bank of West African States during the 2010-11 crisis.
It is feared this year’s vote could trigger similar clashes.
Ouattara vowed to step down, but his plans were torpedoed in July when his anointed successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died suddenly of a heart attack.
Ouattara said that a 2016 revision to the constitution reset the presidential term counter to zero. The opposition wants Ouattara to withdraw his candidacy and are demanding an overhaul of the national electoral board and Constitutional Council, which it says are stacked with his loyalists.
Gbagbo said, “I understand (the anger) and I share it.” But, he said, dialogue was essential. “Talk! Negotiate! Speak to one another!”
“There is still time to do it, to talk. I would like to tell Ivorians that in this fight over the third term, I, Laurent Gbagbo, former head of state, former prisoner of the ICC, am resolutely on the side of the opposition.
“I say, in the light of my experience, that there have to be negotiations!”