ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara pledged on Friday to improve citizens’ access to justice as he launched his bid for re-election in an Oct. 25 poll he hopes will cement the country’s economic recovery following a brief civil war.
Ouattara, who is widely expected to win a second term, is presenting himself as the guardian of stability and the new-found prosperity in French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy.
Nobody expects a repeat of the civil war that marred the aftermath of the 2010 presidential election, when more than 3,000 people were killed, but doubts linger among investors over Ivory Coast’s long-term political and economic stability.
Ouattara marked the first day of the official two-week campaign period with a rally in the capital Yamoussoukro that attracted thousands of supporters, some brandishing signs reading “With ADO”, referring to the president’s initials.
“I will make accessibility to, and the independence of, the courts my guiding principle so that every Ivorian, whatever their social standing or ethnic or geographical origin, can trust the justice system,” he told the crowd.
“Every Ivorian deserves that the fundamental rights spelled out in our constitution and the Charter of the United Nations be respected,” said Ouattara, dressed in a white shirt bearing his own image.
Though Ouattara has won widespread praise for a rapid economic revival that has seen annual growth rates in recent years of around 9 percent, he has faced criticism over his human rights record.
While the courts have jailed allies of ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to accept Ouattara’s victory sparked the 2011 conflict, rights campaigners claim the president has done little to punish the abuses of his own backers.
Amnesty International this week accused the authorities of carrying out a wave of arbitrary arrests and abuse targeting opposition supporters in the run-up to the presidential election, an accusation the government denied.
In a series of speeches, allies from Ouattara’s ruling coalition urged the president’s supporters to ensure a heavy turnout and secure an outright victory in the first round of the vote.
Ouattara faces a deeply divided opposition.
Pascal Affi N‘Guessan, the head of Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and the president’s likely main rival, is seeking to overcome an internal party split that has seen hardliners call for Gbagbo’s supporters to boycott the polls.
Another opposition bloc, the National Coalition for Change (CNC), has struggled to gain nationwide traction and is yet to agree on uniting behind a single candidate in the first round.
“You have to agree that in the 21st century ADO is the candidate who truly responds to the expectations of young people,” said Fernandez Kouame, a student and Ouattara supporter present at the rally.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones