Ouattara came to power after a bloody five-month crisis in 2010-11 and is now in his second term, which ends in 2020.
“The new constitution authorises me to do two terms from 2020. I will only make my final decision at that point, on the basis of the situation in Ivory Coast. The overwhelming priorities are stability and peace,” Ouattara said last week in an interview with magazine Jeune Afrique.
In a communique, a large opposition coalition, Together for Democracy and Sovereignty (EDS), blasted his statement as “pure provocation of the Ivorian people.”
“The idea of a third term, as the current head of state knows, is anti-constitutional, unacceptable and unattainable,” EDS chairman Georges Armand Ouegnin said in the statement.
Ouattara and his supporters say that under changes to the constitution in 2016, of which he himself was the architect, the starting point for presidential terms is now zero — that his two election victories in 2010 and 2015 do not count.
This interpretation is contested not only by the opposition but also internationally, although some commentators see it as a tactic by Ouattara to tamp down quarrels within his party over his succession.
EDS is a coalition that gathers civil society groups as well as the Ivorian People’s Party (FPI), the party of former president Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo refused to step down in 2010 after losing the election to Ouattara. He was forced out after violence between supporters of the two rivals that claimed several thousand lives and is now on trial in The Hague for war crimes.
Constitutional changes that critics say are designed to let presidential incumbents retain power have been unfolding or are under discussion in a range of African countries, including Burundi, Chad, the Comoros, and Togo.