Since independence, Ivoirian leaders had insisted that the PDCI have no opposition, although Article 7 of the Ivoirian Constitution specifically guarantees freedom of expression to "parties and political groups" as long as they respect the principles of "democracy and national sovereignty." At one time, some political leaders had argued for a legal--but constrained--opposition to generate enthusiasm for elections and to vent political pressures that might otherwise threaten the position of the governing elite. A recognized opposition, it was argued, would also provide Côte d'Ivoire with some of the forms--as opposed to the pretenses already in place--of democracy. However, the ruling elite and even some dissidents continued to believe that a single-party system was best for a developing country like Côte d'Ivoire, where class and regional cleavages threatened unity.
Houphouët-Boigny himself had always considered forging a national constituency out of Côte d'Ivoire's more than sixty ethnic groups to be his greatest responsibility if his economic agenda was to be achieved. If unchecked, he said, rivalry between ethnic groups or geographical regions would erode nationalism and dissipate valuable resources that would be better spent on economic development. Left unstated was the concern that this rivalry also would threaten the ruling elite's control over crucial aspects of political life. National unity therefore came to mean party unity. There was room for opposition, Houphouët-Boigny insisted, but only within the party. Thus, in the early years of independence Houphouët-Boigny promulgated laws that severely sanctioned individuals who published, disseminated, divulged, or reproduced false news or documents that, in good or bad faith, "undermined" the morale of the population, discredited political institutions, or led others to disobey laws. With virtually all avenues for criticism closed, platitudes replaced political debate.
Although generally successful at co-opting political foes, Houphouët-Boigny was not averse to bullying his opponents when he felt they threatened stability. He stated on several occasions that if forced to choose between disorder and injustice, he would not hesitate to choose injustice. He added that "When there is disorder, the lives of people and a regime are at stake, but an injustice can always be corrected." Nonetheless, he resorted to force only rarely. Côte d'Ivoire had no preventive detention laws and, by its own definition, no political prisoners, although the army, under instructions from Houphouët-Boigny, commonly conscripted political foes into the military for what he called "judicious training."
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