Ivorian-French banker Tidjane Thiam was Friday elected leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, a victory which puts him in position to contest the next presidential election in 2025.
Thiam, a former boss of banking giant Credit Suisse, won very comfortably with 96.5 percent of the vote against 3.2 percent for his rival Jean-Marc Yace, the mayor of a commune in the economic hub Abidjan, according to the results announced late Friday.
"It is with great humility that I accept the responsibility that you have decided to entrust to me," Thiam said.
More than 6,000 delegates took part in the vote at a party congress in the capital Yamoussoukro.
Thiam was the favourite and had the support of a large majority of the party's lawmakers.
With this election, the Democratic Party (PDCI) hopes to rejuvenate its image following the death of its former leader Henri Konan Bedie, in early August at the age of 89.
It was once the sole legal party in Ivory Coast and ruled for decades following the country's 1960 independence from France, but lost power after a 1999 coup.
At 61, Thiam is a relatively young top political figure in the West African nation and is returning after more than 20 years abroad.
"Our new president will have to put us back in working order. He will have to give more responsibilities to the young people of the party," said interim party president Philippe Cowppli-Bony, 91.
"We have been treated too much as a party of old people. It's positive to see two young candidates, it's nice," said Ohoueu Assi, a congressman from Guiglo in the west.
The party, which is eyeing a return to power in two years, also proposed supporting Thiam's nomination for the 2025 race.
"2025 will be a crucial electoral year for our party, we must be ready," Thiam said.
"If Thiam is our candidate, which I hope, we will have the capacity to return to power," said Cyprien Koffi, a delegate from San Pedro in the southwest.
"He can breathe new life into it."
Once an ally of President 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 after leaving Ivory Coast following the 1999 coup, Thiam returns after a high-profile business career.
In 1982 he was the first Ivorian to pass the entrance exam for the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, from which he graduated two years later before an initial career as an engineer.
He then spent a few years with consulting firm McKinsey before being tapped by the powers that be in Ivory Coast.
An early career as a government minister was interrupted in 1999 when a coup toppled president Bedie and the PDCI has not regained power since.
He then went into the private sector abroad, first with insurance firm Aviva and then as CEO of Prudential before becoming head of Credit Suisse in 2015.
After leading a restructuring of the bank, his initially praised strategy was criticised after three consecutive years of losses and a fall in its share price.
He stepped down in 2020 after a corporate espionage scandal at the bank, which he denied involvement in.
Thiam is also a great-nephew of Ivory Coast's long-serving first president, and PDCI founder, Felix Houphouet-Boigny.