Voters in the Ivory Coast overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that President Alassane Ouattara, pictured in 2011 before he took power, says it will quell decades of instability and violence in the country. File photo by UPI/Basile Zoma/UN | License Photo
YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Voters in the Ivory Coast approved a new constitution that is hoped to quell longstanding instability in the country, though opponents think the document is an attempt by President Alassane Ouattara to retain power beyond his current term in office.
A new constitution was approved with 93.42 percent of the vote as six times as many people voted than expected, introducing to the national government in Ivory Coast a vice president, a senate to create laws with the National Assembly and a chamber for traditional chiefs to have a role in governing the country.
Opposition groups thought about 7 percent of the country's 6.3 million voters would turn out at polls, but six times that many -- 42.42 percent -- voiced their opinion on the new ruling document despite calls to boycott the vote.
While Ouattara has billed the new constitution as an opportunity to stabilize the country, his opponents say a clause that eliminates the limit on the age of political candidates -- 75 -- is a move to allow him to run for office a third time. Ouattara will be older than 75 when his current term ends, but he still can't run for reelection because the new constitution retained a two-term limit for presidents.
Those opposed to the new constitution fear Ouattara is setting himself up, based on the president selecting the nation's vice president and one-third of the members of the new senate, to attempt to retain the office like his predecessor did.
Part of Ouattara's belief the changes will help heal violence that has plagued the nation since 2000, when the previous version of the constitution was adopted, is a specific question of requirements to run for president. The dominating issue for Ivorians to that document is a "national identity" clause requiring both parents of a presidential candidate to be born in Ivory Coast and never sought citizenship in another country.
Violence around the time of the old constitution's adoption led to a civil war in 2002 between the north and south regions of the country. In 2010, the country's previous president, Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office, causing violence in the country that included the deaths of 3,000 people Gbagbo being charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.