AN upcoming constitutional referendum that could enable President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to stay on in power beyond 2025 risks plunging the Central African Republic (CAR) into more crisis.
The changes could pave way for the leader to run for a third term in a country synonymous with armed groups and civil strife.
Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted the referendum comes as government institutions, including the police, have threatened civil society advocates and prevented opposition political protests.
“President Touadéra should publicly announce that he encourages a free and fair debate as to the merits of this change and allow its detractors to speak freely and openly,” said Nantulya.
Announcing the referendum set for July 30, Touadéra said the current constitution, ratified in 2016, “does not reflect sufficiently the deep aspirations of the Central African people” and that he could not remain “insensitive to the urgent and legitimate demands of the sovereign people to endow our country with a new constitution.”
Despite resistance from the opposition and some members of the international community, Touadéra and his party have continued advocating changing the constitution, including by proposing a technical committee tasked with recommending the necessary changes.
The Constitutional Court ruled that such a committee was unconstitutional. In response, Touadéra removed the court’s president, setting off a judicial crisis that continues to threaten the court’s legitimacy.
Local elections, originally slated for September 2022 and rescheduled for July 2023, will again be pushed back to allow for the referendum to occur first.
The Republican Bloc for the Defense of the Constitution (Bloc Républicain pour la Défense de la Constitution, BRDC), a coalition of opposition parties, announced it will boycott the local elections.
Violence by armed groups marred elections held in 2020/21.
Touadéra won with more than 53 percent of the vote amid a low voter turnout of 35 percent.
The country of 5 million people has around half its population in need of humanitarian aid.
Source: CAJ News Africa