President Faustin-Archange Touadera has set July 30 as the date for a proposed referendum on a new constitution for the Central African Republic that would allow him to seek a new term in 2025.
“I have decided … to submit this project for a new constitution to a referendum,” the president said in an address to the nation, posted on Facebook, on Tuesday.
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Touadera was elected in 2016 and was returned for a second term in 2020 despite widespread accusations of electoral flaws and an ongoing rebellion against his rule after years of civil war.
Currently, a president can serve only two four-year terms.
His allies proposed the rule change in May last year, arguing that presidential term limits were uncommon in many neighbouring countries. Critics and opposition parties held protests last year as the reform would allow Touadera to run again in 2025 for a third term.
The president installed a commission to draft the proposed changes in September. But the country’s top court ruled the committee unconstitutional and annulled it.
In January, Touadera removed the country’s top judge, Daniele Darlan, in what critics denounced as a “constitutional coup d’etat” for her opposition to the presidential decrees aimed at revising the constitution.
“There won’t be a third term, but the count will be set back to zero, so anyone can seek a new term, including Touadera if he wants,” the president’s main adviser, Fidele Gouandjika, told AFP news agency after the announcement.
Critics said Touadera was making a blatant power play.
“This new constitution will be written so that Touadera remains president for life,” said Nicolas Tiangaye, a former prime minister and opposition leader.
“What’s more, the Constitutional Court is illegitimate since the ouster of Darlan,” he said.
Touadera has also drawn fire from critics over the hiring of paramilitaries from the Russian Wagner Group in the conflicts between militias that hold sway over large tracts of territory and often clash over access to minerals and other resources.
In February, the Russian ambassador to CAR said 1,890 “Russian instructors” were present in the country.
The last remaining French troops were also forced to leave in December in the face of an increasingly assertive Russian presence, with Paris accusing CAR authorities of being complicit in an anti-French disinformation campaign allegedly fomented by Russia.
France, the former colonial power, had dispatched up to 1,600 soldiers to help stabilise the country after a coup in 2013 unleashed a civil war along sectarian lines.
Landlocked and mineral-rich but dirt-poor, the CAR has experienced few periods of stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.