(Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been hand-picked by President Alassane Ouattara to succeed him after elections later this year, has died. He was 61.
Gon Coulibaly died Wednesday after taking part in a cabinet meeting, Patrick Achi, secretary general in the presidency, said in a statement on national television.
His death leaves the ruling party of the world’s biggest cocoa producer with four months to nominate a successor to Ouattara before a vote scheduled for October. The West African nation is headed for its most tense election since Ouattara took over the reins in 2011, following five months of post-electoral violence that left at least 3,000 people dead or missing.
“This is a huge game changer for the elections,” Kobi Annan, an analyst at risk consultancy Songhai Advisory said from London. “Ouattara was grooming Gon Coulibaly to be the next president, taking him with him everywhere he went to learn the ropes and to show the country that he was his trusted successor.”
Gon Coulibaly died less than a week after returning from a two-month trip to Paris to receive medical treatment. He’d traveled regularly to France since having heart surgery in 2012 and his most recent visit included an operation to have a stent inserted. Earlier this year, he self-isolated after possible exposure to Covid-19, though he reportedly tested negative for the disease.
The ruling Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace party nominated Gon Coulibaly as its presidential candidate in March. The party said as recently as May that it had no plans to find an alternative presidential candidate to Gon Coulibaly.
Gon Coulibaly’s death may lead Ouattara, 78, to reconsider ending his decade-long rule, said Charlie Robertson, Renaissance Capital’s global chief economist.
While Ivory Coast has a two-term limit, Ouattara has said a new constitution adopted in 2016 allows him to serve a third term. The statement angered his opponents at the time, raising concerns about his intentions after he’d earlier pledged to step down after two terms. Ouattara has overseen an economy that has grown 7% or more since 2012. That growth could slow to 0.8% this year if the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic lasts until December, the government said this week.
“Best case as far as I can see is that the incumbent president does run again” despite the “political noise,” said Robertson. “He’s an economist and has done an excellent job over the past decade.”
But Tochi Eni-Kalu, an Africa analyst at the Washington D.C.-based Eurasia Group, said a reelection bid by Ouattara is unlikely because it could galvanize support for the opposition and be legally problematic.
The ruling party “is more likely to opt for a fresh face,” he said.
One of Ouattara’s most trusted aides, Gon Coulibaly served as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010 and as secretary general in the presidency from 2011 until his 2017 appointment as prime minister. During his recent medical leave, Defense Minister Hamed Bakayoko served as acting premier.
(Updates with analyst comment in second paragraph below ‘Excellent Job’ subheadline. An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of the president’s surname in the first paragraph.)
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