ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The two main parties in Ivory Coast's ruling coalition will merge after elections later this year, aiming to consolidate support for President Alassane Ouattara, one of the party leaders said on Wednesday.
Ex-president Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) - the West African nation's third major party and its only opposition movement - is on the verge of breaking up due to disputes within its leadership.
Former President Henri Konan Bedie, who heads the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), said a working group had been set up to prepare its fusion with Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans (RDR) after the October polls.
"There will be a unified convention in April and the party will be unified after the elections," he told journalists in the commercial capital Abidjan.
The ruling coalition includes two smaller parties.
Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, is emerging from a decade-long political crisis that ended in a brief civil war in 2011 and is now attracting investors again.
Gbagbo, who refused to acknowledge his defeat by Ouattara in a run-off poll in late 2010, is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court accused of war crimes committed during the post-election crisis.
Bedie, who finished third in the first round of the election, threw his support behind Ouattara in the run-off and the PDCI was rewarded with the post of prime minister and several cabinet portfolios.
Bedie reaffirmed his support for Ouattara late last year, announcing that the PDCI would not present a candidate in the first round of the election and would instead back the incumbent.
"Alassane has every chance of being re-elected. However, we will continue to travel the country galvanizing the people, because an election is never a foregone conclusion," he said on Wednesday.
Several senior PDCI members rejected Bedie's agreement with Ouattara. Former prime minister Charles Konan Banny has already said he will defy the deal, which was approved in a party congress last month, and challenge Ouattara at the polls.
He and others have begun courting elements within the FPI, which is divided between hardliners who refuse to take part in the polls unless Gbagbo is freed and moderates attempting to steer the party back to the political mainstream.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Ruth Pitchford