US says C.African constitution change 'undercuts' democracy

23.08.2023 LISTEN

The US State Department on Tuesday criticized the Central African Republic's recent constitutional referendum, saying its removal of presidential term limits, among other changes, "undercuts the country's democratic governance."

On Monday, the CAR's top court gave final approval to the results of the July 30 referendum, in which 95 percent of voters favored the changes.

The constitutional rewrite, fiercely criticized by the opposition, scraps the CAR's two-term limit and extends the presidential mandate from five to seven years.

The changes allow President Faustin Archange Touadera, first elected in 2016, to seek a third term and rule into the 2030s.

"We believe that regular peaceful transitions of power yield strong institutions and more stable and prosperous countries," US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement Tuesday evening.

He said the the CAR's "July 30 constitutional referendum... among other changes, removes presidential term limits, and undercuts the country's democratic governance."

Key opposition parties and civil society groups had urged a boycott of the referendum, which saw an official turnout of 57 percent, according to figures certified by the Constitutional Court on Monday.

"The United States notes with deep reservations reports of low voter participation and concerns over secrecy of the ballot," Miller said.

"We call on the CAR government to announce a date for local elections in which all Central Africans can express their views at the ballot box," he added.

One of the poorest and most troubled countries in the world, the landlocked CAR has been gripped by conflict and political turmoil for most of its history since independence from France in 1960.

In 2018, Touadera brought in paramilitaries from Russia's Wagner group to help train his armed forces, and two years later brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital.

France, which in 2013 intervened to help stem a civil war flaring along sectarian lines, pulled out its last troops in December.