FPI was founded in exile in 1982 by history professor Laurent Gbagbo during the one-party rule of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Politically inspired by the French Socialist Party, the FPI is today a full member of the Socialist International (SI).
Gbagbo was sworn in as president after the heavily disputed presidential election of October 22, 2000 was boycotted by the main opposition parties. In the parliamentary election held on 10 December 2000 and 14 January 2001, the party won 96 out of 225 seats.
The party president is Pascal Affi N'Guessan, a former prime minister. Following Gbagbo's election as president, he was required to step down as party leader, and N'Guessan was elected to head the party at its 3rd Extraordinary Congress in July 2001.