Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The electoral code requires a voter-list revision period to take place annually, during which citizens can register to vote or previously registered voters can update their registration information. As of October the voter-list registration period had not occurred.
In legislative elections held in 2016, the ruling party coalition won 66 percent of the 255 National Assembly seats. The main opposition party, which boycotted the 2011 legislative elections, participated, and won seats. The elections were considered peaceful, inclusive, and transparent.
In 2016 the government conducted a referendum on a new constitution to replace the postmilitary coup constitution of 2000. Opposition parties and some local and international organizations claimed the drafting process was neither inclusive nor transparent, and they criticized the new text for strengthening the role of the executive branch. Despite an opposition boycott, the referendum passed overwhelmingly in a peaceful process that was inclusive and generally transparent.
Prior to senatorial elections in March 2018, security forces used tear gas on two occasions to disperse protesters associated with the opposition. Days prior to the election, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day but reversed its decision before the election. Civil society observers received accreditation badges one day before the election. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.
In October 2018 the CEI held municipal and regional elections, which were marred by allegations of fraud, intimidation, harassment, vote buying, and violence resulting in four deaths. In most areas the ruling party edged out independent and opposition candidates. At least one major human rights organization that requested accreditation to observe the elections was not allowed to send observers to polling places. Observers noted nationwide technical difficulties with tablets intended to confirm voters’ identities and eligibility through fingerprint scans. Elections were reconducted in December 2018 in eight localities after the Supreme Court annulled their October results. Observers also judged these elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud despite the significant presence of security forces.
Following recommendations by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, in July the government overhauled the CEI. While the CEI includes representation from some opposition groups and civil society organizations, other opposition parties claimed to have been excluded from the process, or chose to boycott the process due to perceived nontransparency. Some opposition political parties and civil society organizations claimed the government’s proposed recomposition of the CEI was not impartial as they believed the 2016 ruling by the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights required. African Union representatives stated that ruling was binding, but the government claimed it was not.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines. Ethnicity, however, was often a factor in party membership, and the appearance of ethnicity playing a role in political appointments remained as well. Opposition leaders reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. In April an aide to a prominent opposition politician reported being harassed and threatened by police for his political views.
Peaceful assemblies organized by civil society organizations and opposition groups were regularly banned and dispersed with excessive use of force by police and gendarmes, according to a February report by Amnesty International.
In July an opposition leader was arrested for “breaching public order” following his speech during a rally organized by opposition groups in Abidjan to protest the government’s bill to change the composition of the CEI. Five civil society activists and a journalist were invited to meet with CEI members to discuss the recomposition but were then arrested and held for 36 hours, reportedly for planning to protest without a permit.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Of 253 National Assembly (lower legislative body) members, 29 were women. Of 99 Senate (upper legislative body) members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara on April 3 and eight of 66 elected in 2018.
In March the National Assembly approved a bill that would require political parties to ensure that a minimum of 30 percent of candidate lists in legislative, regional, and municipal elections be women. The bill had not been adopted by the Senate by year’s end.
Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites in 2018 were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up the stairs.