ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called on parliament on Wednesday to approve a new constitution that he says will draw a line under years of turmoil and war but which the opposition calls a backward step for democracy.
Ouattara promised during his re-election campaign last year to remove the constitution’s requirement for presidential candidates to have parents who are both natural-born Ivorian citizens, a sore point in a country that has long attracted immigrants from neighboring countries.
Nationality was at the heart of a crisis that began with a 1999 coup and included a 2002-2003 civil war that split the West African nation in two for eight years.
The draft constitution submitted to parliament by Ouattara softens the clause, which had been used by his opponents to bar him from elections and was a symbol of exclusion, particularly of northerners like him, whose family ties often straddle borders.
“This is the occasion to definitively turn the page on the successive crises our country has known, to write new pages in our history by proposing a new social pact,” Ouattara told lawmakers at the National Assembly.
Ouattara finally won election in 2010, although his victory sparked a second war that killed more than 3,000 people after then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat.
Gbagbo is now on trial at the International Criminal Court accused of crimes against humanity.
“Today, the time has come for us to define together what kind of nation we want to build. The time has come to decide what we want to leave behind for our children,” Ouattara said.
Parliament has until Oct. 15 to approve the text in order to submit it to the public in a referendum on Oct. 30.
Other revisions include removing a maximum age of 75 for presidential candidates and making it easier to change the constitution in future.
Opposition politicians and some civil society groups have criticized the drafting process as lacking consensus and transparency.
Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the head of Gbagbo’s FPI party, now the main opposition, criticized the proposed creation of the post of vice-president and a senate, a third of whose members would be appointed by the president, among other changes.
He said they would allow Ouattara to entrench the political coalition between his RDR and the other main party, the PDCI.
“These are changes that take us backward, that offer no solutions to the problems that the country has known but allow one clan to take the state hostage,” he told Reuters.
Reporting by Joe Bavier and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Robin Pomeroy