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Côte d’Ivoire: New Constitution Adopted

(Nov. 25, 2016) Alassane Ouattara, the President of Côte d’Ivoire, promulgated a new Constitution on November 8, 2016.  (Côte d’Ivoire: Alassane Ouattara promulgue la nouvelle Constitution [Côte d’Ivoire: Alassane Ouattara Promulgates the New Constitution], JEUNE AFRIQUE (Nov. 8, 2016); Loi No. 2016-886 portant Constitution de la République de Côte d’Ivoire [Law No. 2016-886 Establishing the Constitution of Côte d’Ivoire], JOURNAL OFFICIEL DE LA REPUBLIQUE DE COTE D’IVOIRE [OFFICIAl GAZETTE OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE COTE D’IVOIRE] (Nov. 9, 2016), at 129.) This new Constitution was adopted by referendum on October 30, 2016.  (Côte d’Ivoire: la nouvelle Constitution créant la 3e République adoptée [Côte d’Ivoire: Adoption of New Constitution Establishing the 3rd Republic], RFI (Nov. 2, 2016).)

According to the Independent Electoral Commission, about 42% of eligible voters participated, with over 93% voting in favor of the new Constitution. (Id.)  These numbers are rejected by the opposition, which had called for a boycott of the referendum and claims that the participation rate was only 3% to 7%.  (Id.)  The opposition also alleges that the vote was marked by fraud and irregularities. (Id.)  The referendum was marred by violence at around 100 polling stations, apparently largely instigated by parts of the opposition. (Joe Bavier & Loucoumane Coulibaly, Violence and Low Turnout in Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Referendum, REUTERS (Oct. 30, 2016).)

Key Provisions of the New Constitution

The text of the new Constitution was published by the Ivorian government prior to the referendum.  (Projet de Loi portant Constitution de la République de Côte d’Ivoire (Oct. 12, 2106), Côte d’Ivoire government website.)  The principal institutional changes brought by this new Constitution include the creation of a new executive position of Vice-President, to be elected by direct universal suffrage for a term of five years, renewable only once.  (Id. art. 78.)  The President may delegate authority to the Vice-President, and the Vice-President acts on behalf of the President when the latter is out of the country. (Id. art. 80.)

The new Constitution also establishes a bi-cameral Parliament. (Id. art. 85.)  Whereas the previous Constitution provided for a unicameral system, Côte d’Ivoire will now have a Senate serving alongside the National Assembly. (Id.)  As was already the case under the previous Constitution, Members of the National Assembly will be elected via direct universal suffrage for terms of five years.  (Id. art. 86.) Senators will also serve for terms of five years, but two-thirds of them will be elected via indirect suffrage, and one-third will be appointed by the President from among “Ivorians recognized for their expertise and demonstrated competence in the political, administrative, economic, scientific, cultural, athletic, professional, and social fields.”  (Id. art. 87, translation by author.)  Furthermore, the new Constitution establishes a National Chamber of Kings and Traditional Chiefs to promote traditional customs and to provide a framework for non-judicial dispute resolution within villages and between communities. (Id. art. 175.)

Although the previous Constitution required that both parents of a presidential candidate be natural-born Ivorians for the candidate to be eligible, the new Constitution now only requires that at least one parent be a natural-born Ivorian.  (Id. art. 55.)  This has been seen as a controversial change, because the old provision was used to exclude many northern Ivorians from the presidency, many of whom have family relations that straddle the borders with neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali.  (Bavier & Coulibaly, supra.)  The current President, Ouattara, was once banned from running in the 2000 presidential election due to claims, which he denied, that his parents were from Burkina Faso. (Id.; Lamine Konkobo, Will New Constitution Bring Peace to Ivory Coast?, BBC (Oct. 28, 2016).)  Furthermore, while the previous Constitution prohibited candidates from running for President if they were above the age of 75, the new Constitution does not have an upper age limit for the presidency, stating only that a candidate must be at least 35 years old.  (Loi No. 2016-886, art. 55.)