January 21, 2000

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) offers this statement as a follow-up to the preliminary statement issued by NDI's international delegation that visited Côte d'Ivoire from December 12 - 18, 1999(1). The NDI delegation had conducted an assessment of the preparations for the fall 2000 elections and the pre-election political environment.

One week after the conclusion of NDI's December mission, a military coup led by General Robert Guéi, overthrew the Bédié government and dissolved the National Assembly. Since then, a "Committee for the Salvation of the Republic" has been established to oversee the formation of a transition government that General Guéi says will lead to a return of the country to democratic, civilian rule.

Ivorians and democrats around the world expect that representative government and Ivorian institutions that address the needs of the population will be put in place soon. The authority of that government must be derived from the will of the people expressed freely at genuinely democratic elections. The transition in which Côte d'Ivoire is now engaged should be used to address the fundamental problems which plagued Côte d'Ivoire's democratic development and to lay the foundation for genuine, inclusive elections and an expeditious return to democratic, civilian rule.

During 1999, the government of President Henri Konan Bédié increasingly demonstrated a lack of respect for democratic principles and practices and disinterest in genuine dialogue with opposition leaders on issues of importance to the country. International financial institutions expressed increasing concerns about corruption in high places, while a series of legal maneuvers and efforts by the Bédié government to stifle opposition and dissent in Côte d'Ivoire caused tensions to escalate. The government seemed to be oblivious to the consequences of the mounting ethnic and political tensions in the country. The cumulative effect of the Bedié government's actions would have stifled electoral competition, denied the citizens of Côte d'Ivoire an opportunity to freely express their views, and virtually predetermined the outcome of future polls. It appeared as though the Bédié government was intent on perpetuating its political power at all costs.

Given the actions of the Bédié government, many Ivorians welcomed its ouster; however,notwithstanding the weak democratic credentials of the Bédié government, the manner in which it was replaced raises deep concerns about the future of democracy in Côte d'Ivoire. Undemocratic behavior by governments combined with unprofessional military forces create a disruptive pattern whereby soldiers are emboldened to resort to coups whenever they have grievances or political ambitions. A politicized military can also tempt civilian politicians to call on the armed forces to intervene when they cannot win popular support. Coups are a fundamental breach of the democratic principle and practice of instituting political change through genuine, democratic elections. Regardless of the stated intentions and the grievances cited by perpetrators, military coups jeopardize faith in democratic processes. Democracy, after all, is about the means by which political ends are pursued.

The actions of the Bédié government and the emergence of military rule cast a cloud of doubt over prospects for democratic governance in Côte d'Ivoire. Under these circumstances, extraordinary measures must be taken urgently to restore Ivorians' confidence in the future of democracy in their country. These measures must be guided by the principles of fairness and transparency. The credibility of the entire transition will depend on constitutional and electoral reform processes that are fair and that are so perceived by Ivorians.

While the military regime has stated publicly its intentions to implement a transition to democratic civilian rule, the timeline for the transition remains unclear, as does the role of the coup leaders in the country's political future. In this climate of uncertainty, public confidence - among Ivorians and in the international community - in the military's commitment to a viable transition to democratic civilian rule may falter, unless all sectors of Ivorian society are able to participate fully in the transition.

NDI's December 1999 delegation visited Côte d'Ivoire at a critical stage in the country's democratic development. Rising political tensions had created an atmosphere that jeopardized chances for inclusive and transparent elections in 2000. At the same time, Ivorians were faced with pressing social and economic problems that required increased accountability and transparency in the management of resources.

During the 1995 electoral period, political parties disagreed over the legal framework for the presidential election. This disagreement led to an active boycott by the two main opposition parties and election-related violence in parts of the country. While the main parties contested subsequent legislative elections, disagreement remained over the state of the voters' register and administration of the electoral process. Preliminary dialogue and consultations among political parties in 1998-1999 led to a number of improvements. The delegation noted a number of steps being taken to create an appropriate framework for the 2000 national elections in Côte d'Ivoire. These steps included efforts to prepare for a comprehensive revision of the voters' register and legislation recently approved by the National Assembly pertaining to elections.

Despite these efforts, the delegation identified serious problems involving fundamental democratic principles and political participation that caused grave concerns about the prospects for democratic governance and meaningful elections. Opposition party leaders had been arrested and imprisoned under a law that restricted the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The delegation was also concerned about questions raised regarding the independence of the judiciary and lingering questions over the administration of and legal provisions for the electoral process. Given the antecedent of election-related disputes and violence during the 1995 elections, the delegation strongly urged that additional decisive measures be taken immediately to create the environment and conditions for a democratic electoral process that would have the confidence of the Ivorian people.(2)

Many of the December delegation's preliminary observations remain relevant during the current transition process.

Imprisonment of Political Party Leaders
The existence and unrestricted functioning of political parties are central to multiparty democracy. Genuine and open political discourse and participation in a country are impossible while any party's leadership remains in prison, unless the detention results from convictions based on an independent judicial process with the full range of protections under the rule of law. During the December assessment mission, nine members of the RDR leadership were in prison under questionable circumstances. Noting the negative impact that this had on the political environment, the NDI delegation stressed that the RDR leaders be released as soon as possible to diffuse tensions and to permit dialogue on the critical issues of the day. Since the December 24 coup, members of the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI) have been imprisoned or detained by the military junta. They too deserve full protections of the rule of law.

The Ouattara Issue
At the time of the NDI delegation's visit a number of issues were pending concerning Alassane Dramane Ouattara's nationality, his eligibility to serve as RDR president and as a presidential candidate. At the time, a warrant had been issued for Ouattara's arrest. While the delegation could not investigate the substance of these questions, the manner in which the issues were pursued strongly suggested that the claims were politically motivated to block his candidacy and his participation in the politics of the country. The delegation observed that preventing his candidacy or right to run a political party without just cause would have been seen by many Ivorians as denying them the right to make a full choice at the ballot box and would have adversely affected the integrity of the election process.

Independence of the Judiciary
While the independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of every democratic society, it takes on added importance when the individual and human rights of citizens are at stake. The delegation noted that the political crisis of the last five months had deeply shaken the integrity and independence of the Ivorian judiciary. The delegation deplored the manner in which the courts were being manipulated for political gain.

It is heartening to note that pending litigation against opposition political party leaders has been dropped. Nevertheless, the initiation of the investigations against Ouattara, the conduct of the trials of the RDR leaders and the immediate dismissal of all litigation after the fall of the Bédié government lend credence to the popular perception that the Ivorian judiciary is highly politicized.

Freedom of Assembly
An Executive Order issued by Bédié and restricting public "demonstrations in open sites" had the potential to infringe on the rights of political parties, professional associations and labor unions to organize activities for their members and supporters and to express their views before the public. The law that imposed criminal vicarious responsibility on political leaders if property was damaged when they organized demonstrations could be easily manipulated to eliminate political opponents. The arrest of the leadership of the RDR in October 1999 indicated that both the law and the application of it were having a chilling effect on the upcoming election and the political process at large. Ivorians also cited incidents of forceful intervention by security personnel to disperse peaceful public demonstrations and the negative impact this had on otherwise peaceful assemblies.

Access to State-Controlled Media
State-controlled radio and television are the only media that reach virtually all parts of Côte d'Ivoire. The delegation heard complaints of lack of equitable access and coverage (including the right of response) of political party activities in the state-controlled media. In the recent past, opposition parties, professional associations and labor unions have organized demonstrations advocating for more balanced coverage of diverse political view points on national public media.

The Media's Role in Political Discourse
Print media play a highly visible role in political discourse, particularly in Abidjan. While the freedom of the press is critical to a democratic system, journalists also have a responsibility to report on issues accurately and without bias. The partisan nature of a number of media in Côte d'Ivoire exacerbated political differences and contributed to the creation of an environment in which it became increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. This hindered the public's ability to make informed assessments of developments that were impacting the political life of the country.

Administration of Elections
The legislation regarding establishment of a supervisory election commission approved by the National Assembly in December provided for political party and civil society representation on the commission and the appointment of polling officers by the Commission rather than by the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization or Prefects, as was the case in the past. While representing improvements in the provisions for impartial administration of elections, these changes did not fully address calls by most political parties and nonpartisan Ivorians for an independent and neutral election administration unit.

Recent Improvements in the Framework for Elections
The now defunct National Assembly recently approved legislation pertaining to the electoral code, the election of all members of the senate - which is yet to be created, public financing of political parties and the establishment of a supervisory election commission. The changes reflected improvements in the framework for the elections although it was not clear how quickly the new legislation would be enacted and implemented. Nevertheless, political parties expressed the need for discussions on additional changes in a number of areas, including the minimum voting age, the distribution of voter cards, the single ballot system, redistricting and provisions for run-offs in presidential elections.

Voter Registration
Revision of the voter's register is underway. The delegation noted that the Ministry of the Interior had met with the PDCI, the Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) and the RDR to explain the methodology for updating the voters' register. Representatives of the main political parties were satisfied with the methodology for updating the register and planned to encourage their supporters to register. At the time of the NDI delegation's visit, political parties were already expressing reservations about whether adequate resources would be set aside to handle the volume of the registration process. Others complained that the Commission had not been created in time to supervise the process.

Ballot System
Côte d'Ivoire is currently under a multiple ballot system. Proponents of this system stated that the use of multiple ballots would make it easier for illiterate voters to express their choice. Other Ivorians argued that the single ballot is less susceptible to manipulation and enhances voters' rights to a secret ballot.

Run-off System for Presidential Elections
Recent amendments to the Ivorian electoral code provide that during the presidential election, if no candidate wins an absolute majority of the votes, there will be a second round of voting. However, all candidates who run in the first round are permitted to run again in the second round, and the candidate with the highest votes becomes president. Under this system, a candidate with only a relative majority could become president. The delegation heard concerns that where the successful presidential candidate wins with a small percentage of the electorate, it may become difficult to garner enough support and the legitimacy required to govern peacefully in the post-election period. It is typical of two-round, run-off systems that only the two candidates with the most votes advance to the second round, which eliminates the possibility of a winner with a relatively small popular mandate.

Opposition parties complained that the current distribution of seats in the National Assembly is heavily weighted in favor of the PDCI. They alleged that in areas traditionally sympathetic to the PDCI, National Assembly Deputies represent, on average, approximately 39,000 people whereas in areas perceived to be opposition strongholds, the distribution is approximately 71,000 people per deputy. Such disparity runs contrary to the democratic principle of equal representation of Ivorian citizens within the national legislature and the principle of equality of the vote (equal suffrage). Although a national census was recently completed in Côte d'Ivoire, the outcome had not been made public by the time of the delegation's visit.

While the current military regime in Cote d'Ivoire has promised to create the political environment for genuine and credible elections and governance in the country, Ivorians and the international community will be watching for appropriate actions that reinforce the verbal commitments made by General Guéi and the military.

International standards require a transparent election process and a political process that permit direct, full participation of political competitors and their parties. They require a sound legal framework and an impartial and effective election administration that conducts its activities in an open manner. They also require an electoral environment in which political parties and candidates are free to organize peaceful assemblies and other demonstrations of public support and have equitable access to and treatment by the mass media to convey their messages.

From NDI's experience in more than 50 emerging democracies around the world, it is clear that confidence in the political process and a perception of fairness are as important as the letter of the law. International experience also demonstrates that once the confidence of large segments of the public in the political process is shaken, as is usually the case under autocratic or military rule, extraordinary steps by the government are required to reestablish confidence in the country's political and electoral processes.

The current leadership of the country should use the transition process to create the conditions for genuine democratic elections, to lay the foundation for viable democratic institutions and transparent and accountable government. All political parties should be allowed to compete freely and fully. In order to ensure full participation and the integrity of the political process, multi-party dialogue and consensus on fundamentals are needed for the country to move ahead. In the spirit of international cooperation NDI offers the following recommendations.

Date Certain Return to Civilian, Democratic Rule
The military rulers should publish, immediately, a date certain and a timetable for return to civilian, democratic rule. This timetable should contain specific benchmarks for the institutionalization of genuine democratic practices in Côte d'Ivoire. It should ensure that time is allocated and resources are made available to support a transparent, inclusive electoral process. Special attention should be paid to establishing mechanisms through which the military's grievances can be voiced and addressed in the future and that strengthen lines of communication between legislators, the executive and the military to ensure healthy civil-military relations. A new commission will reportedly be established to recommend constitutional amendments that will lay out the "rules of the game" for the upcoming elections. It is imperative that all sectors of Ivorian society be fairly represented in this constitutional review process and that the commission conducts its work openly and in a nonpartisan manner.

Imprisonment of Political Party Leaders
While the imprisoned RDR leaders have now been released, steps should be taken to restore all of their civic and political rights so that they can run for political office if they so chose. It is also imperative that any outstanding legal issues relating to the incarceration of PDCI leaders be resolved promptly and that the legal reasons for their detention be publicly known. They must be treated with equality before the law and receive equal protection of the law - free of any politically-based discrimination - and they must have timely proceedings with due process. It is imperative that the junta respect due process in investigating any alleged wrongdoing so that Ivorian citizens are not deprived of their basic rights and freedoms. Continued detention of individuals without trial is a violation of internationally recognized human rights and undermines the regime's stated commitment to democracy.

Eligibility for Political Leadership
Legal developments that may have prevented Ouattara from serving as leader of the RDR or standing as candidate for president had a negative effect on the political climate. Ivorians should review and clarify, as appropriate, the eligibility requirements for political leadership and nationality in the country to take into consideration the nature of the modern Ivorian nation-state and in order to avoid similar problems in the future. Ivorians expect that the criteria that are agreed upon will be applied equally to all individuals or candidates for public office.

Neutral Role for Transition Government
Because the current transition government has declared its intention to play a neutral role in the conduct of the transition elections, the upcoming elections have a potential to be the most competitive that Côte d'Ivoire has ever experienced. To achieve this, the transition government must apply the strictest neutrality towards all political parties and candidates. This transition can only be accomplished through cooperation among Ivorians and if political will is applied at the highest level to make nonpartisanship a reality. Any attempts by members of the transition team to exploit their personal standing to run for office would undermine the credibility of the transition program.

Administration of Elections
It is important that election authorities be impartial and effective and that they are perceived to be so by the electoral contestants and the public. When elections are administered by a Ministry that is beholden to the incumbent regime or to a potential competitor in the elections, impartial administration of the electoral process may be compromised. Given accusations of the Ministry of Interior's partiality in administering elections in the past, Ivorians should explore the possibility of creating an independent body to conduct the 2000 elections. Political parties and nongovernmental organizations involved in democracy and governance activities should have full access to oversee every aspect of the electoral process including registration, the campaign period, balloting, tabulation and publication of final results. The government should ensure that any such new Commission has the financial and human resources necessary to begin functioning in a manner that inspires confidence among Ivorians in the impartial and effective administration and oversight of the electoral process. This should also be accomplished as early as possible in the transition process. The strictest separation should be maintained between candidates or other partisan interests and the administration of the electoral process.

Independence and Integrity of the Judiciary
Based upon recent events and perception among Ivorians of a highly politicized judiciary, extraordinary steps should be taken to reconstitute confidence in the judicial system of Côte d'Ivoire. Members of the judiciary and the political leadership of the country must uphold the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary as core principles of a democratic society. Citizens need to have full confidence in the independence of the judiciary. Equality before the law and equal protection of the law therefore must be made available to those PDCI members being detained or who come under investigation, just as they must receive timely, due process by the judicial system. This would require among other things expedited proceedings against any individuals in strict accordance with international standards for rule of law and opening the proceedings to international human rights observers and advocates. Further steps relating to judicial training and advocacy may be necessary once civilian, democratic government has been restored.

Freedom of Assembly
It is hoped that the laws that restrict public demonstrations and impose criminal responsibility on political leaders if property is damaged when they organize demonstration will be revoked or subjected to stringent safeguards to prevent future abuse. The right to peaceful assembly should be guaranteed through legal safeguards and ensured through public pronouncements and actions by government leaders.

Continued Discussion on Electoral Issues
All political parties should continue open discussions on unresolved issues and ways to improve the electoral process. These include questions concerning the appropriate voting age, redistricting, the use of the single ballot and the second round in presidential elections. The experience of other emerging democracies on the African continent shows that the full benefits of a single ballot system should be explored as it has been implemented successfully under the same conditions of literacy that exist in Côte d'Ivoire. It is also imperative to release the census figures and to use them for a more equitable distribution of National Assembly seats. The transition period offers the opportunity for further inter-party discussions on these issues.

Media Issues
Given that bias in news coverage is cited frequently as one of the causes for polarization of political discourse in the country, Ivorian authorities should take immediate and effective steps to guarantee accurate and balanced coverage of political parties, potential candidates and issues of importance in the political process. Directives should be issued by the state-controlled media concerning equitable amounts of time being devoted to all political parties and contestants, as well as careful checking of the accuracy of facts before they are reported and removal of both positive and negative bias when addressing parties and candidates. An effective mechanisms should be implemented to review complaints concerning inaccuracies and bias and to provide immediate, effective remedies such as the right of correction and right of reply. Ivorian law provides that all political parties contesting the election are to receive equal access to state-controlled media during the relatively short election campaign. While this is positive, it is no substitute for measures to assure accuracy and prevent bias in news coverage.

In addition, journalists and private media should adopt ethical standards to ensure accurate and balanced news coverage, and parties and candidates should avoid inaccurate and inflammatory statements about their competitors as such behavior can cause further polarization of political discourse in the country.

Broadening the Base for Participation
The current leadership of Côte d'Ivoire should work with political parties and civil society organizations to ensure that as many Ivorians as possible are included in the development and implementation of regulations pertaining to institutions of governance and elections in Côte d'Ivoire. This includes civic education on the importance of democratic, civilian rule, the need to exercise one's right to vote and the procedures for registering and casting one's vote. Given the planned transition to civil democratic rule, broadening the base for participation in electoral and other political processes remains critical. Accreditation should be provided to impartial Ivorian organizations to monitor and report freely on all aspects of the election and political processes. This will increase citizen participation and public confidence that these processes are developing democratically.

Voter Registration and Election-Related Preparations
The election administration and voter registration officials should apply the methodology for updating the voter's register in a neutral and effective manner in order to create a reliable voters' register that would enable the participation of the highest possible number of Ivorians in the electoral process. All eligible Ivorians should register so that they can exercise their right to vote.

NDI remains committed to supporting democratization efforts in Côte d'Ivoire and will continue to monitor and report on the transition process.

1. NDI's delegation to Côte d'Ivoire included election experts and political analysts: Anne-Emmanuelle Deysine, professor at the University of Paris X-Nanterre; Fernando Marques da Costa, Chief Political Advisor to the President of Portugal; Ismael Tidjani-Serpos, member of the National Assembly of Benin and President of the Constitutional Affairs Committee at the legislature; I. William Zartman, Director of African Studies and Conflict Management Programs and Professor of International Organization and Conflict Resolution at the Johns Hopkins University Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., and Christopher Fomunyoh, NDI Regional Director for West, Central and East Africa.

2. The delegation made its observations and findings based upon NDI's work in Côte d'Ivoire since 1992, a review of the Ivorian Constitution and election law, and analysis of information presented to the delegation during its meetings in the country. The delegation met with: members of the government including then-President Henri Konan Bedié; leaders of the main Ivorian political parties; representatives of civic organizations involved in democracy support activities; journalists; religious and labor leaders and other Ivorians interested in the process leading up the 2000 elections. The delegation also visited the leadership of the Rassemblement des Républicains (RDR) incarcerated at the Maison d'Arrêts et de Correction d'Abidjan (MACA). 

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