Ivory Coast parliament votes to hold referendum on new constitution

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s parliament on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of holding a referendum on a new constitution that would among other measures remove a controversial nationality clause that contributed to years of unrest and civil war.

President Ouattara pledged during his campaign for re-election last year to scrap the clause, which states presidential candidates must prove both their parents are natural-born Ivorians. They must also have never claimed citizenship of another country.

The motion to hold a referendum was approved in the National Assembly with 233 votes in favor and six against. Seven lawmakers abstained.

The plebiscite is expected to be held in September or October ahead of parliamentary elections later in the year.

However, opposition parties and some civil society groups are against the referendum, arguing that Ivory Coast must make progress towards post-war reconciliation first.

Ivorian nationality became a political issue at the heart of a decade-long crisis that began with a 1999 coup and included a 2002-2003 civil war that split the country in two for eight years.

The West African nation has long attracted immigrants from neighboring countries, and the clause became a symbol of exclusion, particularly of northerners whose family ties often straddle regional borders.

Ouattara himself was barred from seeking the presidency over what opponents said were his foreign origins before he finally won election in 2010, although his victory sparked a second brief civil conflict that killed more than 3,000 people.

Through the referendum, Ouattara is also believed to be seeking to create the new post of vice-president to take over and complete the president’s term if he were incapacitated or died in office.

Currently, the speaker of parliament is second in line to the presidency, but the constitution states that new elections must be organized within 90 days, a time frame critics say is unworkable.

Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Hugh Lawson