Central African Republic votes on whether to allow president a third term

Central African Republic  Barbara DEBOUT / AFP
© Barbara DEBOUT / AFP

Voters in the Central African Republic will cast their ballots on Sunday on a controversial plan to change the constitution and open the door to a third term by President Faustin Archange Touadera.

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

The president's supporters say his tenure would be reset to zero, enabling him to run again for the presidency.

One of the poorest countries in the world, the Central African Republic has been gripped by conflict and political turmoil for over a decade.

Touadera was first elected in 2016 as the country – with the backing of France and the UN – emerged from a civil war that broke out following a coup.

Today, swathes of territory are still controlled by rebel groups. Touadera himself remains in power with the support of Russia's paramilitary Wagner group.

He was re-elected in 2020 after a vote marred by accusations of fraud and low turnout. Less than one in three eligible voters took part, mainly because of intimidation in rebel-held areas.

'Constitutional coup d'etat'

According to Evariste Ngamana, deputy parliamentary speaker and spokesman for the pro-Touadera majority in parliament: "This constitution stems from the public dialogue which was organised in March 2022 – it stems from the will of the people.

"The goal is to create institutional stability and the right conditions for development."

However, the main opposition parties and civil society groups are calling for a boycott of the poll. They say that the electoral roll is incomplete and those in charge of overseeing the vote lack independence.

"We are faced with a constitutional coup d'etat – the goal of no-limit [presidential] terms is quite simply about having power for life," said Martin Ziguele, president of the opposition Central African People's Liberation Movement.

Muted protests

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

On 14 July, only around 500 people braved a ban to attend a protest rally, which authorities had branded "subversive".

But the country's judiciary has not always sided with Touadera. In September 2022 the Constitutional Court dealt the president a humiliating blow when it scrapped the establishment of a committee tasked with drafting the new constitution.

The court's president, Daniele Darlan, was then targeted in violent verbal attacks by Touadera supporters. In January this year, he was forcibly retired.

Around 1.9 million electors are eligible to take part in Sunday's vote, though intimidation could once again limit turnout.

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

An outlet linked to Russia's Wagner group said this month that several hundred fighters from the mercenary force had arrived in the country to carry out this task.

(with AFP)