News / Africa

Vote Delay in Central African Republic Could Extend President's Term

Elections in the Central African Republic have been postponed for a second time, raising the likelihood that the president will remain in office past the end of his June mandate.

President Francois Bozize agreed to delay the May 16 vote after meeting with opposition leaders who say the Central African Republic must first update its voter lists and disarm rebel groups.

That will now likely keep President Bozize in office beyond the expiration of his constitutional mandate June 11th. In an announcement on state radio, the president said he will work with the national assembly to, in his words, "suggest a way we can avoid anarchy in the country."

President Bozize won election in 2005 after taking power in a coup two years earlier against the government of Ange-Felix Patasse. He and Mr. Patasse are the only two candidates in this vote because a coalition of opposition parties is boycotting the process over concerns about security and the electoral list.

This vote was originally scheduled for last Sunday but was delayed until May. Electoral commission spokesman Rigobert Vondo says it must now be pushed back again because a vote can not technically be organized within the next three weeks.

Thierry Vircoulon directs the Central Africa project for the International Crisis Group. He says elections in the Central African Republic are both too early and too late: too early because militias are not disarmed, too late because President Bozize's mandate expires in June.

"Beyond June you have a constitutional problem," Vircoulon said. "So you have there a real dilemma between the fact that the constitution has its own timeframe, and you have also the problem of implementing the electoral process which requires more time."

The ten-party Collective of Forces for Change coalition says a free and fair vote is not possible while violence continues in the north between government troops and rebels opposed to the Bozize government and in the east between the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army and government troops supported by Ugandan soldiers.

"There must be security for all the candidates who want to campaign to go to any area they want. That is quite difficult to achieve right now in Central Africa Republic because some areas are still sensitive," said Vircoulon.

Rebels in the north this month confiscated electoral lists that were being sent to the capital. That fight is compounded by an unrelated rebellion across the border in Chad. The United Nations has nearly 4,000 peacekeepers in the area for both Chad and the Central African Republic, but Chad wants those forces to start pulling out within weeks.

Dorina Bekoe is a senior research associate at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"The Chadian rebellion and the CAR rebellions are linked to internal political instability, and until those two issues find resolution, you are going to continue to see armed rebellion," Bekoe said.

While President Bozize has not called on the UN's MINURCAT peacekeeping force to leave the Central African Republic, most of those troops are based in Chad. Bekoe says redeploying them against the Lord's Resistance Army would dramatically change their mandate to protect humanitarian assistance to one-quarter million Sudanese refugees and another one-quarter million combined Chadian and Central African Republic civilians.

"There has been a call for perhaps relocating the UN and MINURCAT to the area where the LRA are operating but that is way beyond the current mandate," Bekoe adds. "They have certainly added to the spread of the humanitarian insecurity and the crisis in CAR."

The U.N. says LRA attacks on civilians have displaced more than 20,000 people inside the Central African Republic, adding to both electoral insecurity and the likelihood that those people will not be able to vote.

The Economic Community of Central African States is calling on the Bozize government to continue its dialogue with political opponents to arrive at an acceptable approach to organizing elections that allow both voters and candidates to freely exercise their democratic rights.

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