Ivorian president says he will stand in 2020 election if former leaders run again

KATIOLA, IVORY COAST (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said on Saturday he would run for a third term if his predecessors decided to compete in the 2020 election, a vote seen as a major test of stability for the country after two civil wars this century.

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara reacts during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied landings in Provence in World War Two which helped liberate southern France, in Boulouris, France, August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/Pool

The election already looks highly unpredictable. Ouattara’s main coalition partner defected last year, and his bitter rival, former president Laurent Gbagbo, could return after being acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ouattara, 77, has said he intends to hand power to a younger generation but he has also argued that a constitutional change in 2016 has canceled previous term limits, enabling him to stand again. His opponents dispute this.

Addressing thousands of supporters at a rally in the central town of Katiola, Ouattara said: “I want everyone in my generation to step aside.”

But “if they decide to be a candidate, then I will be a candidate,” he said, referring to Gbagbo, 74, and 85-year-old former president and ally, Henri Konan Bedie.

The alliance struck in 2005 between Ouattara’s RDR and Bedie’s PDCI was meant to dominate for generations and help heal the political rifts that led to civil war three years earlier.

But the pact that propelled Ouattara to presidential election victories in 2010 and 2015 collapsed in September 2018, as the parties bickered over whose candidate should be in pole position next time round.

Bedie’s party is expected to announce its candidate next year.

Former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, 47, announced in October he would run in the election, the first major politician to do so.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa and was the fastest-growing economy in West Africa last year, thanks to its agriculture, construction and retail sectors.

Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Bernadette Baum