UN: Central African Republic on way to successful elections

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Central African Republic said Monday the country “is very definitely on its way to holding successful elections” in late December but the political situation is still tense.

Mankeur Ndiaye told the U.N. Security Council that some regions remain “fragile,” and several candidates have raised doubts about last year’s peace agreement between the government and 14 armed groups.

Ndiaye said the Dec. 27 presidential and legislative elections are taking place at “a crucial moment,” saying Central Africans have “a unique opportunity to leverage what has been achieved democratically and pursue stabilization of the country.”

The mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the capital, Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in the killing of thousands and the displacement of thousands.

The country saw a period of relative peace in late 2015 and 2016, but violence intensified and spread afterward, and since the signing of the peace agreement in February 2019 intermittent serious incidents of violence and human rights violations have continued.

But Ndiaye said “noteworthy progress has been achieved, particularly in terms of political reform, restoring state authority and transitional justice.” An electoral code was adopted and on Oct. 14 the national electoral authority released a computerized roster of 1.86 million people who can vote, 46% of them women, he said.

Smail Chergui, the African Union’s commissioner for peace and security, said that represents 97% of the voting population, but he said the government must explain its statement that cited “insurmountable obstacles for including refugees in the election.” According to the U.N. refugee agency, there are 598,000 refugees from Central African Republic, mainly in neighboring countries.

France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, was cautious, saying the country “continues to confront major challenges” and “in spite of reform of the electoral code, preparation of the election is running late and this could endanger the holding of the elections.”

As for challenges, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic, he warned that the humanitarian situation is continuing to deteriorate, food insecurity is rising, and human rights are being violated. The latter includes “alarming” violations of the rights of children, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on civilians, security forces, and humanitarian and medical personnel, he said.

Koen Vervaeke, the European Union’s managing director for Africa, urged Central African Republic’s government and political actors to “do everything to ensure transparency of the media,” expressing concern at the “disinformation campaign” during the election period. He noted the EU is providing more than half the budget for preparing the elections as well as expertise.

Ndiaye, Chergui, De Riviere and Vervaeke all stressed the importance of ensuring a free, fair, peaceful and transparent electoral process and stepping up efforts to fully implement the 2019 peace agreement.

Ndiaye said there are 16 candidate for president, including three women and the incumbent, Faustin-Archange Touadera.

“Some candidates have already cast doubt on the peace agreement and are even proposing to renegotiate it if they would be elected,” he said, and the main opposition coalition is contesting the legality of legislative reforms adopted by the electoral code.

“However, the tensions have not compromised our ability to organize elections in the constitutional timeline,” Ndiaye said. “But we need to do more to encourage all candidates to adhere to a good conduct code and to ensure the peacefulness of the election.”

He said local elections, which have not been held since 1988, are scheduled for next year and also “are vital in order for grassroots democracy to take place for local governance.”