Ivory Coast: Tidjane Thiam takes the reins of the main opposition party

Successful return home for Tidjane Thiam

Ivory Coast: Tidjane Thiam takes the reins of the main opposition party

Successful return home for Tidjane Thiam. The Franco-Ivorian banker was elected on Friday, December 22, president of the Democratic Party of Côte d'Ivoire (PDCI), the country's main opposition party.

Mr. Thiam was elected very comfortably at a party congress in Yamoussoukro, with 96.5% of the votes against the mayor of the Abidjan commune of Cocody, Jean-Marc Yacé, credited with 3.2% of the votes according to results announced late in the evening. More than 6,000 congresspeople were called to vote in the Ivorian capital on Friday and were able to accomplish their duty at the end of the day, without major incident. Participation reached 64%.

Mr. Thiam becomes the third elected president in the history of the PDCI, founded in 1946, after the father of the Ivorian nation Félix Houphouët-Boigny and another former head of state, Henri Konan Bédié. His victory allows him to consider being a candidate for the next presidential election in 2025.

After paying a “deep tribute to his predecessors”, Mr. Thiam considered that “the progress and outcome of the congress honored” the party. “It is with great humility that I accept the responsibility that you have decided to entrust to me,” he added.

Rejuvenate the party’s image

Tidjane Thiam, former boss of Credit Suisse from 2015 to 2020, was the favorite, with his international notoriety but also the support of a large majority of party deputies. Receiving a standing ovation upon his arrival in Yamoussoukro, he took many selfies throughout the day.

With the election of Tidjane Thiam, 61, an age considered young to hold high political office in Côte d'Ivoire, the PDCI will rejuvenate its image. “Our new president will have to get us back up and running. He will have to give more responsibilities to the young people of the party,” declared the party’s interim president, Philippe Cowppli-Bony, aged 91.

The former leader of the PDCI, Henri Konan Bédié, president of Côte d'Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, died in August at the age of 89 and did not rule out running in the 2025 presidential election.

“We have been called too much of an old party. It’s positive to see two young candidates, it’s nice,” said Ohoueu Assi, a delegate from Guiglo in the West.

The party, which aims to return to power in two years, also proposed Friday evening to support Mr. Thiam with a view to an investiture for 2025.

“2025 will be a crucial election year for our party, we must be ready. We must prepare for this deadline tomorrow morning,” said Mr. Thiam on Friday evening to the cheers of the audience.

At the head of Côte d'Ivoire continuously from 1960 to 1999, the former single party has not accessed the supreme office for 24 years when a coup d'état chased Henri Konan Bédié from power one evening Christmas 1999. Once an ally of Alassane Ouattara, in power since 2011, the PDCI regained its place in the opposition in 2018 and boycotted the last presidential election.

More than two decades outside the country

The holding of the PDCI congress on Friday was uncertain throughout the week, after a postponement last Saturday by the Ivorian justice system, seized by two activists who denounced irregularities in the list of congress participants. The decision notably pointed to the risks of “disturbing public order” to justify this postponement and the police were deployed on Saturday morning to prevent access to the congress venue. While the PDCI had rescheduled the congress for Friday in Yamoussoukro, the same two activists took legal action again, before finally withdrawing their complaint on Thursday evening.

Mr. Thiam left Abidjan after the 1999 coup while holding a ministerial post. Can he, after more than two decades outside Côte d'Ivoire, embody a credible presidential candidate when his detractors consider him to be cut off from the realities of the country?

“He has an advantage: he is not involved in any party management affairs, he has international influence, he is someone of his time and in his time,” slips a PDCI executive.

A sign that his return does not go unnoticed, executives of the RHDP, the ruling party in Côte d'Ivoire, released their blows the day after his first meeting in Yamoussoukro, at the beginning of December, inviting him in particular to be "humble and a a little less pretentious.”

Grandnephew of Félix Houphouët-Boigny (1905-1993), Tidjane Thiam highlighted this asset during his return to politics in recent weeks, evoking “with great emotion” the “land of [his] ancestors”.