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Ivory Coast Table of Contents

Ivory Coast


By early 1988, Houphouët-Boigny had given no indication of when he might resign. However, there were increasingly clear signs that his control, like his health, was slipping. To avoid the kind of damaging and embarrassing circumstances that surrounded the political demise of Tunisian leader Habib Bourguiba, who in 1987 was declared unfit to govern, senior members of the PDCI pressed Houphouët-Boigny to step down. In early 1988, observers reported that Houphouët-Boigny might heed their advice to retire by year's end, although he intended to remain as head of the PDCI. Presumably, he would then be able to lend his authority to his successor and thereby prevent an acrimonious struggle among potential contenders in the presidential election that, according to the Constitution, would shortly follow.

Article 11 of the Ivoirian Constitution, amended on October 12, 1985, states that if the office of the presidency is vacated by death, resignation, or incapacitation as attested by the Supreme Court, the functions of the president shall be performed on a provisional basis by the president of the National Assembly. After at least forty-five but no more than sixty days, elections will determine the new leader, who may also have been the provisional president. As president of the Assembly, Henri Konan Bedié appeared to have an advantage over his potential rivals, including Yacé. At the same time, Yacé appeared to have a larger following in the PDCI Political Bureau, where the ultimate decision would be made if there was to be a single, unanimous choice by the party. Much of Yacé's popularity derived from his years of faithful service to state and party. As younger Ivoirians replaced older party stalwarts in the government and party, Yacé's support would diminish and that of Bedié, his chief rival, would grow.

By mid-1988 Houphouët-Boigny had avoided naming or even suggesting a successor, reportedly believing that were he to do so, party loyalty would split between the heir apparent and other candidates, his own power would shrink, and the successor he selected would immediately become the target of political criticism. Consequently, the president allowed the political process to take its course, which led to a standoff between Bedié and Yacé, the two leading candidates. Houphouët-Boigny's decision to allow politics to determine the choice also demonstrated his belief that the Ivoirian polity was sufficiently mature to pursue its own interests without recklessly endangering the system.

Meanwhile, the succession debate continued. Many Ivoirians stressed the importance of choosing a member of a minority ethnic group as a compromise acceptable to the Baoulé, Bété, Kru, Sénufo, and Mandé groups (see Ethnic Groups and Languages , ch. 2). Others stressed the importance of choosing an elder statesman, thus avoiding a possible crisis of confidence should a younger, less experienced leader be named. Still others insisted that choosing a young, educated technocrat was the only way to resolve the country's daunting economic and social problems.

Data as of November 1988