As discussed in my last post, the Central African Republic (CAR) is in the midst of holding presidential elections. These are the first elections to be held since the crisis broke out in 2013, which resulted in the ousting of the then President Francois Bozizé. A transitional government was set up in 2014 which has ruled the country until the first round of elections was finally held on December 30.
Thirty candidates ran for president in the first round and 79% of registered voters cast their vote to elect the next leader of the Republic. Though Bozizé himself was constitutionally banned from running, members of his administration and several sons of former leaders participated in the race.
The first round of elections was peaceful and widely considered a success, despite two candidates subsequently calling for a manual recount due to alleged fraud. No individual candidate received over 50% of the vote and so a second round of voting is scheduled to take place before February 14. Two candidates will be participating in this round of elections: Anicet Dologuélé, who received 23.7% of the vote, and Faustin Archange Touadera with 19.4% of the vote.
So who are the candidates advancing to the next round? And what are their chances of helping CAR out of its current conflict?
Known as “Mr. Clean”, Dologuélé has tried to eradicate corruption and theft for years. He studied economics in France before serving as CAR's Minister of Finance from 1997-1999. Subsequently, he served as Prime Minister of CAR from 1999 to 2001 under President Ange-Félix Patassé. After his dismissal, Dologuélé went on to lead the Central African States Development Bank based in Brazzaville (Congo) from 2001-2010. Due to his experience in economics and politics, many consider him to be the best choice for the future of CAR. He is supported largely by the economic community of Bangui. His parents are from three different prefectures of the country (Ouham-Pende, Ouham and Basse-Kotto) giving him an air of geographic neutrality.
He is running as a candidate of the Central African Union for Renewal Party (URCA) which he himself founded in 2013. Former president Bozizé’s party, the Kwa Na Kwa (KNK), has thrown their support behind Dologuélé after the Constitutional Court ruled that Bozizé himself was not eligible to run. This support may prove vital in a race where the candidates’ agendas are so similar.
Faustin Archange Touadera
Originally from the capital of Bangui, Faustin Archange Touadera is running as an independent candidate, a declaration which has lent him the advantage of appearing impartial. In a time when CAR is still torn by sectarian conflict and citizens are profoundly tired of violence, this independence is highly valued. Though not initially foreseen as a front runner, he was able to garner 19.4% of the vote.
Touadera is a trained mathematician with degrees from Cote d’Ivoire, France, Cameroon and CAR. He worked as a researcher, lecturer and vice-chancellor of the University of Bangui. After decades of work in academia, Touadera started his political career as Prime Minister under Bozizé from 2008 until the coup in 2013.
The two candidates are very similar in both their strengths and in their weaknesses. Both candidates are from the political elite and have strong ties to Francois Bozizé. This link may damage their standing due to Bozizé’s suspected role in provoking violence since he was forced from office in 2013. However, this connection may also lend them political credibility with the electorate, especially Dologuélé who has received formal endorsement from Bozizé’s party.
Their political agendas are largely similar: outlining plans for national unity and reconciliation, reform of the security sector, economic development through the private sector, investments in human capital and infrastructure and technology. Generally the types of policies you would like to see in the current climate.
In addition to the obvious challenges of leading the country out of ongoing conflict, there are several administrative challenges the successful candidate will have to manage. In a constitution passed in December, a new Senate was created in addition to the pre-existing National Assembly. Thus, whoever is elected will have less power, practically speaking, than any former leader. It is hard to predict exactly how this will unfold. The Constitutional Court recently invalidated the results of the legislative elections due to widespread ballot irregularities. Thus both the makeup of the new Senate and the implications of how a new president will share power are anyone’s call. However, in a country that has historically suffered from personal rule and dictatorships, this will be a key point. How will the newly elected president interact with opposition? How will they deal with the Senate?
It is not clear which candidate will have a better chance of moving CAR out of this crisis. What is clear is the extent of the challenge they'll face.