New Constitution + Election Season = New problems for Africa
This past month has seen many state leaders calling for the creation of new constitutions in their respective countries. Côte d’Ivoire, Nepal, Zambia, Chile, amongst other countries, all might possibly have a new constitution in the coming months.
The construction and use of constitutions vary from each corner of the world. In the United States we’ve had the same constitution spanning over two centuries. Latin American countries notably switch out constitutions in favor for a newer one as time spans, and time changes.
Prior to being reelected, President Alassane Ouattara announced while campaigning that main objective in his second term would be to reform the birthright law in the Ivorian constitution. This birthright law states that Ivoirians must prove citizenship based on where their parents were born. If one’s parents were born on Ivorian soil then that person is considered to be Ivorian and therefore is eligible to run president.
Ouattara’s statement doesn’t come as a shocker but it may heighten the likelihood of a post-election conflict. Ouattara has faced large criticism for assuming office with claims of him not being Ivorian but instead from Burkina Faso. The birthright once prevented Ouattara from running for office.
This year’s elections follow a series of civil wars in 2002 and 2012 plagued by ethnic conflict, both of which Ouattara played a part in. Ouattara’s 2012 “election win” was also claimed to be rigged, and further secured through the help of the UN and French forces. While this was a peaceful election this time around, the main opposition’s candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan, of the FPP party, founded by deposed President Gbagbo, has stated unfairness. Many criticized the election particularly because 3 million voters excluded from participation. While N’Guessan came in second, Essy Amara and Mamadou Koulibaly were also running as the opposition and pulled out prematurely citing “a lack of fairness in the electoral process.”
The change in constitutions may prove other motives considering a sizeable discontent with his presidency and the large support for disposed president Laurent Gbagbo who is facing charges for war crimes in the ICC. This might as well be the president’s attempt to further legitimize his presidency.
There has not been a date put forward for constitutional change but when it is formally put forward the change will need support from parliament, which is dominated by Ouattara’s party. Such a move might create a larger political divide between the North and South. Only time will tell what security will like in the Ivory Coast in the coming months.
Republic of the Congo
Denis Denis Sassou N’Guesso has put forward a new constitution that would override the existing presidential term limits. N’Guesso’s efforts would allow for him to seek reelection if all goes well. The original constitution as it stands has a two-term limit and restricts those older than 70 from running for office. N’Guesso is in search of a third term at the age of 71.
The international community has commended these new efforts. President Barack Obama has expressed his beliefs that efforts to undermine existing rules to extend time in power will lead to “instability and strife.”
The referendum has been further pushed, and more recently, officials began counting ballots which will dictate if the constitution will be changed and allow President N’Guesso to extend his 18 year rule for a third term.
Many media outlets and officials are calling this a peaceful vote. However, the vote has led to protests from opposition parties and has resulted with a surge of violence prior to the passing of the referendum on October 27th. It is hard to believe that there might not be an outbreak of some sort considering N’Guesso’s presidency is turning more into a faux democracy, which is very much common in post-colonial Africa.
There was a 71.2 percent voter turnout for the referendum. It is also expected that N’Guesso will seek reelection next year, which may extend his rule to near 40 years in power.
Image 2: Alassane Ouattara after he voted in the election in Abidjan (AP)
Image 3: Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguessou talks to the media after voting on the controversial referendum