The Central African Republic is facing a crucial moment in its history with President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s announcement on June 30, 2021 of plans to hold a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment that could eliminate presidential term limits. This is a controversial proposal, one that has divided the nation as well as prompted criticism from international organisations.
Currently, the Central African Republic constitution stipulates a president can serve only two terms of four years each, yet many of President Touadera’s allies have long argued for a scrapping of term limits. These allies proposed last May that the rule change would be beneficial to the nation, noting that presidential term limits were uncommon among neighbouring countries.
Though the president installed a commission to draft the proposed changes in September, the country’s top court ultimately declared the committee unconstitutional and annulled it. This decision was vocally welcomed by opposition parties and protesters who had held widespread protests the year before against the reform, which would provide Touadera the ability to run for a third term in 2025.
Furthermore, what has added to the consternation over the proposed changes is the fact that Touadera was reelected last year for a second term, but in an election marred with electoral flaws and ongoing rebellion against his own rule after years of civil war.
As a result, the referendum will be a critical moment in the nation’s history, one with profound implications for its future. While requiring a simple majority to go into effect, the referendum, if successful, could give Touadera a chance to extend his rule and pave the way for future presidents to stay in power for longer.
The scheduled referendum on July 30th will be closely watched from both within the country, as well as from the international community, as the stakes could not be higher for the Central African Republic.
In January of 2021, Touadera, President of the Central African Republic, removed the top judge of the country, Daniele Darlan, in what opponents criticised as a “constitutional coup d’etat”. Darlan became one of the targets of Touadera’s plans to revise the constitution of the Central African Republic in a way that many view as a possible untimely extension of his term as President. Darlan had been vocal in her opposition to the president’s decrees.
The plans to rewrite the constitution are said to be a blatant power play by Touadera. Former Prime Minister and Opposition leader, Nicolas Tiangaye, made his stance clear, stating that the president is drawing up a constitution in order for him to remain in office for life. Moreover, he argued that the Constitutional Court has become illegitimate since the ousting of Darlan.
It was in December 2020 that the last remaining French troops were ordered to vacate the Central African Republic, in light of the rising presence of Russian Paramilitants from the Wagner Group. According to the Russian Ambassador of the Central African Republic, Davides Renatov, 1,890 “Russian instructors’ ‘ were in the country at the time of France’s departure.
France is the Central African Republic’s former colonial power and had dispatched as many as 1,600 soldiers to the nation back in 2013, in order to assist in the stabilisation of the country after a coup had unleashed a civil war. Poverty and lack of resources have been consistent in the Central African Republic since their gaining of independence from France in 1960; there have been few occasions in which stability was expected.
Touadera’s manipulation of the constitution and the ousting of Darlan, along with the elimination of French troops from the nation, has been met with considerable criticism from citizens and political commentators alike. Their questions have yet to be answered, and the true implications of Touadera’s decisions remain to be seen.