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Africa

Ivorians to vote on constitutional reform

Citizens of the Ivory Coast head to the polls on Sunday to vote for a new draft constitution proposed by President Ouattara. It is likely to secure a majority but turmoil could follow.

President Alassane Ouattara had been campaigning for a Oui! (Yes) vote on Sunday's referendum to endorse a new constitution for the Ivory Coast after years of political turmoil and violence. He has said that if adopted, it would "definitively turn the page on successive crises."

Campaign posters hung throughout the country read "Yes to peace, to modernity." But questions remained whether or not voters would turn up at the polls as the opposition has called for a boycott.

Just last week, two opposition newspapers were suspended while several protesting politicians were detained. Observers and Ivorians alike fear that this could lead to another outbreak in violence.

Amnesty International was one of the groups criticizing the detention of opposition figures ahead of the referendum and called for restraint so that all Ivorians could freely practice their right to vote.

"Côte d'Ivoire needs to focus on creating a safe and enabling environment in which all voices can be heard," wrote the group in a press release.

New constitution

The main complaint regarding the referendum has been the lack of transparency and outreach on the part of the government. Many residents who spoke to DW complained that they did not know what was in the draft constitution.

"It would have been important to make copies and distribute them to the people so that they know what's in there or to organize small meetings," one resident of Abidjan told DW.

"Honestly no one has explained to us what's going on. We are just being told to go and vote for it," said another resident.

The main changes to the constitution include the scrapping of the age limit of 75 for a president and removing the idea of "Ivoirite" from the constitution. This refers to the requirement that both parents of a presidential candidate must have been born in the Ivory Coast.

Elfenbeinküste Präsident Alassane Ouattara (Getty Images/L. Venance)

President Alassane Ouattara has been in power since 2010

President Ouattara is already 74 and will be over the allowed limit by the time his term ends in 2020. There have also been concerns regarding his right to be president as questions remain as to whether both his parents were in fact born in the country.

Some critics accused him of using the new constitution in a bid to stay in power but a ban on third terms has not been taken out of the draft document.

However, the new constitution would allow Ouattara to appoint a vice president, a position many believe the president will use to groom a successor.

One resident of Abidjan who had read the draft constitution, said that he will vote in support of it.

"The vice presidency allows for continuity in case the president is unable to exercise his duties and the senate has also been introduced to bring balance to the national Parliament," hea said. "I think all provisions are welcome and I'm happy."

The country has been relatively stable since 2011 when former President Laurent Gbagbo was arrested after a year-long civil war that killed hundreds of Ivorians. Gbagbo is currently being tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

(Reuters, AFP)

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