Central African Republic validates vote for new constitution that increases the president's control

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The Central African Republic is set to adopt a new constitution after the country’s high court validated the results of a national referendum.

According to the constitutional court, 95 percent of voters favored a new constitution that expands executive power. President Faustin Archange Touadera and his ruling party proposed changes that remove presidential term limits and expands terms from five to seven years.

The new constitution will replace the one adopted at Touadera’s inauguration in 2016, when the country was in a civil war and 80% of it was not under state control. The changes could extend the ruling party’s rule indefinitely, analysts say.

The mineral-rich but impoverished nation has faced intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and forced then-President Francois Bozize from office. Mostly Christian militias later fought back, also targeting civilians in the streets. The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping mission in the country, estimates the fighting has killed thousands and displaced over a million people, one fifth of the country’s population.

A coalition of rebel groups threatened to interfere in the referendum by attacking polling stations, which were guarded by troops from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.

Supporters of the president welcomed the result.

“This is a happy outcome, and we will continue to support the actions of the Head of State if they are in the interests of the people,” said Aurelien Simplice Zinghas, a member of a political organization allied with the ruling party.

In an unexpected about-face, however, 73 deputies from the majority party appealed to the Constitutional Court Thursday to change the constitution in a disagreement about national education standards.

The Court, which will be reconfigured to include more presidential appointees under the new constitution, rejected the petition.

Jean-Pierre Ouaboue, President of the Constitutional Court, said just over 57 percent of voters came to the polls — lower than the electoral commission’s initial estimates on Aug. 7.