Polls have opened in the Central African Republic on Sunday for a constitutional referendum that would allow President Faustin-Archange Touadera to seek a third term in office.
Voting was scheduled to begin at 6:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) but polling stations opened around one hour late. The polls are due to close at 4:00 p.m.
Around 1.9 million people are eligible to vote in the country of 5.5 million people. News agency Reuters reported a meager turnout in the capital, Bangui, hours after the polls opened.
Provisional results are not expected for eight days, while the constitutional court is scheduled to publish the definitive outcome on August 27, according to the national electoral authority.
“This referendum basically confirms the fears of authoritarian drift,” said Enrica Picco, Central Africa project director with the Crisis Group think tank.
Why is the referendum controversial?
The referendum would abolish the two-term limit for Central African presidents.
It would also extend the mandate from five years to seven years. Touadera’s two years in office would be reset to zero.
Opposition parties and other critics say these changes would entrench the president’s power.
On Wednesday, the Union for Central African Renewal party urged voters to boycott the referendum, calling it a “gigantic swindle.”
“Touadera wants to see himself as an emperor, and he wants to make our country what he wants, not what Central Africans want,” said former Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
Opinion polls suggest the “yes” camp is likely to triumph.
“We know that the ‘yes’ camp is going to win — but we shall put the emphasis on participation,” National Assembly vice-president and presidential majority spokesperson Evariste Ngamana told the AFP news agency.
Who is Faustin-Archange Touadera?
Touadera was first elected president in 2016 during a civil war where 80% of the country was not under state control. He won reelection in 2020.
He made global headlines in 2022 when he made Bitcoin an official currency of the Central African Republic.
Touadera previously served as prime minister from 2008 to 2013 under then-President Francois Bozize.
The Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and timber but it remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Analysts say Wagner has received logging rights and control of a gold mine.
The draft constitution also includes drastic changes that give the National Assembly less power over the mining sector.
Charles Bouessel, a consultant on the Central African Republic for the Crisis Group think tank, said that Wagner therefore has a strong interest in keeping Touadera in power.
Source : DW