Former President Laurent Gbagbo is reborn in the Ivory Coast with a new political project | International

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Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo during one of his appearances in his trial at the ICC in February 2020.POOL New (Reuters)

Laurent Gbagbo has firmly returned to the forefront of Ivorian politics. The former president of the Ivory Coast between 2000 and 2011, who was tried and finally acquitted in 2021 of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a process that lasted a decade, has just named the candidates of his own party politician for the local and regional elections next September. However, the great unknown that floats in the air is whether he himself will launch himself into the presidential race that ends in 2025. His followers dream of it, while the interested party himself, on the back of strong popular support and reborn from his ashes, maintains a calculated ambiguity. Those who left him for dead politically in 2011, when he was arrested and taken to The Hague, did not know of his tenacity.

Almost two years have passed since he returned to his country. Acclaimed by tens of thousands of followers, the former president had just achieved his most important victory after proving his innocence at the International Criminal Court. Ten years of detention and the passage of time itself had taken their toll on the political veteran, today about to turn 78, who seemed weaker and more tired and spaced out his public appearances. However, just four months later, in October 2021, he launched a new socialist and pan-Africanist party, the Party of the African Peoples of the Ivory Coast (PPA-CI), with the firm intention of challenging his old enemy for power, President Alassane Ouattara. Today he is closer to his goal.

“I don't have a dead body in the closet. When the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, read the charges against me, I knew he was going to be released. I didn't know when, but there wasn't a single truth in everything he said”, assured a passionate Laurent Gbagbo from the podium on March 31 in his reappearance on the public scene, a large rally in Yopougon's Ficgayo square, in Abidjan. Neither the date nor the place were chosen at random: it was exactly two years after the acquittal, "when the innocence of the innocent was recognized," said Gbagbo, and that popular district of the economic capital, one of the main scenes of the bloody conflict of 2010-2011, had always remained faithful to the old professor.

In the two years he has spent in Côte d'Ivoire, Gbagbo has paved the way for reconciliation, as has President Alassane Ouattara, who allowed him to return to the country and has even proposed naming a bridge in Abidjan after his rival. who needs to close old wounds. Nobody would have thought of it 12 years ago, when both were proclaimed winners of a close election, the first by the Constitutional Court and the second by the electoral commission, which fueled a crisis that ended with 3,000 deaths. Ouattara, with the support of the international community, won that battle at the hands of the rebels led by Guillaume Soro and with the cover of French aviation and UN troops, while the image for posterity was that of Gbagbo and his wife defeated and sitting on a hotel bed while militants surrounded them after the violent assault on the presidential palace.

The gestures of détente between the two old rivals, however, do not stop the renewed political ambitions of Laurent Gbagbo, who moves his pawns in a calculated way. For the next local and regional elections, the first major test to which the PPA-CI is subjected, the former president has focused his efforts on the south of the country, knowing that the north is the natural and practically irreducible stronghold of Ouattara and his Grouping of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) —alluding to Félix Houphouët-Boigny, considered the father of the country's independence—, which currently has a very comfortable absolute majority in Parliament.

Thus, the PPA-CI will present candidacies to 22 of the 31 regions of the country and 129 of the 201 municipalities. Michel Gbagbo, deputy and son of the former president, runs for mayor of Yopougon and faces none other than Adama Bictogo, president of Parliament, in a kind of anticipated duel and by proxy that advocates a fierce electoral battle between the parties of Gbabgo and Ouattara in the presidential elections of 2025 and the legislative ones of 2026. To all this must be added the undoubted electoral pull of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) of the incombustible Henri Konan Bédié, who today leads the opposition and with whom Gbagbo seeks agreements to oust the RHDP from power. A broader pact between the two would shake the ground on which Ouattara stands today.

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But without having yet stood for any election, the PPA-CI is already the third largest Ivorian parliamentary force thanks to the bloc affiliation of 18 pro-Gbagbo deputies who had won their seat in the 2021 parliamentary elections. In this way, the young party has become a serious fighter for the upcoming electoral battle, fueled by the collapse of the historic Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), founded by Gbagbo himself in 1982, which until now brought together the most progressive electorate and which has slipped towards the can. The success of the rapid positioning of the PPA-CI on the political scene is attributable, practically exclusively, to the figure of its leader, who, despite the time that has elapsed and the serious accusations against him, has not lost an iota of his popularity.

The only legal stumbling block for now that prevents a hypothetical candidacy of Gbagbo for the presidency of the country in 2025 is judicial. The former president was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Ivorian courts in the so-called case of the BCEAO box [el saqueo de la sucursal local del Banco Central de los Estados de África Occidental], a sentence that he did not serve thanks to a presidential grace granted by Ouattara in August 2022. However, his entourage is convinced that there will be an amnesty that would open the door to a possible candidacy. Laurent Gbagbo has not yet said the last word about him.

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