/ 29 July 2023

Central African Republic to vote on controversial constitution change

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President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Photo: Barbara Debout/AFP

Voters in the flashpoint Central African Republic (CAR) will cast their ballot on Sunday on a controversial plan to change the Constitution, opening the door to a third term by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

One of the poorest countries in the world has been gripped by conflict and political turmoil for more than a decade. Touadéra was first elected in 2016 as the country, with French and United Nations help, emerged from a civil war that spiralled along sectarian lines following a coup.

Violence persists today, albeit at lower levels. Swathes of territory are controlled by rebel groups and Touadéra remains in power with the support of Russian paramilitaries.

Touadéra was re-elected in 2020 after a vote stained by accusations of fraud and low turnout.

The proposed constitutional change would raise the presidential term from five to seven years, and scrap its two-term limit.

Touadéra’s supporters say his tenure would be reset to zero, enabling him to run again for the presidency.

“The goal is to create institutional stability and the right conditions for development,” said Evariste Ngamana, deputy parliamentary speaker and spokesperson for the pro-Touadéra majority in parliament. 

The main opposition parties and civil society groups are calling for a boycott of the election, describing it as flawed by an incomplete electoral roll and electoral overseers who lack independence.

“We are faced with a constitutional coup d’état — the goal of no-limit [presidential] terms is quite simply about having power for life,” said Martin Ziguele, president of the Central African People’s Liberation Movement.

But open protests against the referendum have been low-key and Human Rights Watch says opponents have been threatened or harassed.

As for the judiciary, the constitutional court in September 2022 dealt a blow to Touadéra, scrapping the establishment of a committee tasked with drafting the new Constitution. The court’s president, Daniele Darlan, was forced to retire in January this year.

About 1.9 million people are eligible to take part in Sunday’s vote. 

Touadera has said that Russia and Rwanda, which has also increased its influence in the CAR, would “support” security for the vote.

A Wagner-linked outlet said this month that several hundred Wagner fighters had arrived in the country to carry out this task.

Last month Mali — whose ruling military junta is also supported by Wagner — pushed through a new Constitution followed a controversial referendum. It says the Constitution will steer the country’s return to civilian rule next year. — AFP