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Central African Republic: Elections
Central African Republic: Elections
Date distributed (ymd): 990902
Document reposted by APIC
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
This posting contains a special report on the presidential
elections in the Central African Republic scheduled for
September 12, 1999, with background on events since army
mutinies in 1996-1997 and subsequent African and UN
Central African Republic:
IRIN special report on forthcoming presidential elections
[Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org UN IRIN-CEA
Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129]
[This item is delivered in the "irin-english" service of the
UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not
necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For
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[This IRIN report does not necessarily reflect the views of
the United Nations]
NAIROBI, 1 September (IRIN) - Ten candidates will contest the
first round of presidential elections in the Central African
Republic (CAR) on 12 September as the country strives to
recover from a recent period of debilitating civil strife and
overcome serious economic and social difficulties.
An estimated 1.5 million people are expected to cast their
votes in some 3,000 polling stations set up in the country's
16 prefectures and the eight districts of the capital, Bangui.
A second round of voting, if no single candidate receives over
50 percent on 12 September, will be held on 3 October. The
candidates - incumbent President Ange-Felix Patasse, six
opposition leaders and three independents - are vying for a
six-year term, renewable only once.
The UN Mission in the CAR (MINURCA) and UNDP are providing
technical and logistical assistance to the Commission
Electorale Mixte et Independante (CEMI), the 27-member body
responsible for the organisation and conduct of the elections.
CEMI's budget of 1.9 billion franc CFA (about US $3 million)
has been covered by a government allocation of 1 billion franc
CFA and contributions from several donor countries.
Over 200 international observers are being fielded to monitor
the elections, and MINURCA troops have been deployed to nine
designated electoral monitoring sites at Berberati,
Kagabandoro, Bangassou, Bossangoa, Bozoum, Bouar, Bambari,
Nedel and Birao. The planned deployment of observers and
troops at another designated monitoring site, Mobaye, had not
yet taken place due to insecurity resulting from the recent
influx of thousands of soldiers to that area from the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
MINURCA - the first new UN peace-keeping operation to be
established in Africa since the UN Operation in Somalia II in
1993 - was deployed in April 1998 to take over from the
Inter-African Mission to Monitor the Bangui Agreements
(MISAB), which was set up in the wake of a series of army
mutinies in 1996-97.
The mutinies, essentially triggered by salary arrears and
public discontent over social and economic problems, killed
hundreds of people, displaced tens of thousands and resulted
in widespread looting and destruction of small enterprises and
factories in the capital.
The Bangui Agreements, signed in 1997 by the army mutineers
and the Patasse government following mediation efforts by four
African heads of state, restored peace and set out measures
for a comprehensive settlement of the crisis. All CAR
political parties signed a National Reconciliation Pact the
following year. However, the social and economic effects of
the mutinies continue to be felt, and not all components of
the Bangui Agreements have been implemented yet.
UN-monitored legislative elections for the 109-seat National
Assembly held in November/December 1998 were generally
considered to be free and fair. Opposition parties won 55
seats while the ruling party and its allies won 54. But the
post-election defection of an opposition legislator gave the
ruling coalition a one-seat majority in the assembly,
prompting opposition protests.
While Patasse's victory in the 1993 multi-party elections
ushered in a process of turbulent democracy, critics say his
government has been characterised by exclusionary policies,
incompetence, mismanagement and corruption. The opposition was
unable to unite behind a single candidate to challenge
Patasse, but political parties in the opposition coalition
UFAP (Union des forces acquises a la paix) signed an agreement
on 19 August pledging to rally behind the leading opposition
candidate in the second round.
The mutinies caused CAR's gross national product to fall by
about three percent in 1996 and resulted in a sharp decline in
public revenue as well as the doubling of the unemployment
rate in Bangui. While there has been some improvement in the
country's macro-economic situation since then - including an
estimated 25 percent increase in average monthly government
revenue - most of the private sector and foreign investors
have not resumed business. "Everyone is waiting for the
results of the election to see whether to return," a civil
society leader in Bangui told IRIN recently.
This July, the Executive Board of the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), after a relatively favourable review of the
economic situation, disbursed an additional US $11 million to
the CAR as a second tranche of the first annual Enhanced
Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) economic reform
programme launched in 1998. While the fresh IMF funds enabled
the partial payment of salary arrears, the country's 20,000
civil servants and army soldiers are still owed eight or nine
months of remuneration. The payment of education grants for
students and retirement benefits for pensioners is also
UN Special Representative Oluyemi Adeniji has told IRIN that
peace in the short-term was needed to encourage the private
sector to return, thereby increasing employment and government
revenue and ensuring the regular payment of salaries.
"Investors, if they are convinced stability will last, will
gradually come back," he said. Conversely, the country would
be "in serious trouble" if cooperation agreements with the
Bretton Woods institutions were to break down, he added.
The precarious economic situation prevailing since the civil
strife has led to deepening poverty and deteriorating living
conditions at the household level, humanitarian sources have
said. Although the country is rich in largely unexploited
natural resources, including diamonds gold and timber, more
than 60 percent of its population are struggling to survive on
less than US $1 a day, a recent UN report noted.
The purchasing power of the population has declined
drastically, access to health and education services is poor,
chronic malnutrition affects about one quarter of children
under five years of age, and mortality rates are increasing,
the sources said. The CAR is ranked among the 10 lowest
countries of the 174 that are included in the most recent UNDP
Human Development Index. [For additional information, see
separate item on 31 August headlined: "Worsening conditions
amid deepening poverty" - IRIN-CEA: 19990831]
One of the aspects of the 1997 Bangui Agreements that has not
yet been implemented is the restructuring of the armed forces.
The national army is weak and is viewed as incapable of
stemming armed robbery taking place along roads in the
interior of the country. The army remains dominated by one
southern ethnic group, the Yakoma, to which former president
Meanwhile, the better-equipped presidential guard, known as
the FORSDIR, is composed mainly of members of Patasse's own
northern ethnic group, the Kaba, which is part of the larger
Sara group. FORSDIR is reportedly responsible for many human
rights violations and is assuming law and order functions
beyond its mandate, a situation that UN Secretary-General Kofi
Annan recently described as "potentially explosive."
"There is frustration on the part of the population and
suspicion on the part of the opposition who see in FORSDIR a
force that would be engaged against it in case it won the
election," a MINURCA official told IRIN. "At the same time,
the president is suspicious of the army because of its role in
the mutinies," he added.
"If there are problems, the behaviour of the FORSDIR will
certainly not be neutral," a security source told IRIN.
The national police force, with an estimated 1,900 officers in
1998, is largely unarmed and poorly trained. The country's
police academy remained closed for 20 years until it was
reopened last year by MINURCA, which is currently training
some 180 officers.
Of the estimated 3,434 army soldiers, 1,374 gendarmes and 642
FORSDIR elements that constitute the country's armed forces,
some 800 are to be demobilised under a UNDP project, while
some 600 are due for retirement, which would pave the way for
new recruits - taking into account geographical and ethnic
balances - to bring the restructured armed forces to some
6,000 personnel. However, UN sources said there has been very
little or no donor funding contributed towards efforts to
restructure the army, demobilise and reintegrate soldiers or
strengthen police capacity.
The scheduled departure of MINURCA on 15 November is
compounding fears of potential renewed civil unrest and the
creation of a security vacuum in the post-election period,
particularly if the results are contested. "Many have
forgotten that peace is very precarious. A few weeks after the
departure of MINURCA, anything could happen," a diplomatic
source in Bangui told IRIN recently, adding that the root
causes of the 1996 mutinies remained largely unresolved.
MINURCA is composed of some 1,300 troops and civilian police
from 14 countries. When the UN Security Council extended
MINURCA to 15 November, it expressed its intention to follow
through with "full termination" of the mission's mandate by
UN Force Commander Major General Barthelemy Ratanga told IRIN
recently that while there may be "bad losers" who contest the
election results, "they won't go far if everyone is persuaded
that the elections were transparent and well prepared." As
MINURCA's departure will have a "psychological impact," the
elected president would have to reassure the population and
restructure the army, he said. "Without a solid army, there
can be no development," Ratanga added.
Fueling fears of potential post-election or post-MINURCA
unrest is the growing "ethnicisation" of CAR society, which
has been exacerbated since the mutinies and exploited by the
political class for their own personal interests, analysts
Membership in political parties - and voting patterns in the
1998 legislative elections - were largely along ethnic or
regional lines, analysts noted, while a civil society
representative said that Bangui residents had started to move
from one area of the capital to another based on the ethnic
make-up of the city's neighbourhoods. "If problems do arise,
people will react on the basis of their ethnic or regional
origins," she said.
A political analyst agreed, saying: "The manipulation of the
population by the political elite is taking a dangerous turn."
The ethnicisation problem "will take decades to eradicate," he
The country's estimated population of 3.5 million is composed
of some 90 ethnic groups.
Ange-Felix Patasse, the 63-year-old incumbent president, was
first elected in 1993, after having been an unsuccessful
candidate in 1981. A period of economic recovery during the
first years of his term enabled the regular disbursement of
civil servants' salaries as well as the payment of
previously-accumulated arrears, but salary payments started to
fall behind again in 1995. Patasse, an agricultural engineer,
had served as minister and prime minister under former
president Jean-Bedel Bokassa. He was subsequently forced into
exile during Kolinga's presidency. Patasse's party is the
Mouvement de liberation du peuple centrafricain (MLPC), which
last year received 47 seats in the National Assembly and has
strong support in the north.
David Dacko, 69, served as minister of the interior under the
country's first president, Barthelemy Boganda. After Boganda
died in a plane crash, Dacko became president in 1960 at the
age of 30, and he brought the country to independence the
following year. He was ousted in a military coup led by
Bokassa on 31 December 1965, but was reinstated in the 1979
French-supported 'Operation Barracuda' and served as president
until the head of the armed forces, General Kolingba, took
over in 1981. He was an unsuccessful candidate in the 1993
elections. Dacko is president of the Mouvement pour la
democratie et le developpement (MDD), which holds eight seats
in the National Assembly and has strong support in the west.
Andre Kolingba, 63, is a career military officer who served as
CAR ambassador, including in Canada and Germany. Opponents say
Kolingba's 1981-1993 tenure as president following the ousting
of Dacko was characterised by dictatorship and "favouratism"
towards his own ethnic group. Kolingba was an unsuccessful
candidate in the 1993 elections, receiving only 11 percent in
the first round of voting. His party is the Rassemblement
democratique centrafricain (RDC), which has 20 legislators in
the assembly and is popular in the east.
Abel Goumba, 74, a veteran opposition figure, is a professor
of medecine who has lived in France and in Benin, where he
worked for the World Health Organisation (WHO). Goumba came in
second in the 1993 elections, losing to Patasse in the second
round of voting with 45 percent. A leftist, he was elected to
the National Assembly last year along with six other members
of his party, the Front patriotique pour le progres (FPP),
which is popular in central areas.
Jean-Paul Ngoupande, 51, was elected in last year's
legislative elections. He is president of the Parti de
l'unite nationale (PUN), which has three seats. He served as
minister of education under Kolingba, as prime minister under
Patasse and as CAR ambassador in Cote d'Ivoire and France.
Enoch-Derant Lakoue, a 55-year-old economist, is a former
minister and prime-minister. He was an unsuccessful candidate
in the 1993 elections. A dissident MLPC member, Lakoue created
the Parti social democrate (PSD) in the early 1990s. His party
has six seats in the National Assembly, but Lakoue himself was
an unsuccessful candidate in last year's elections.
Charles Massi, 47, served as minister of mines and of
agricultural under Patasse before he formed his own party, the
Forum democratique pour la modernite (FODEM), in 1997. He was
then fired by the government and temporarily placed under
house arrest. Massi was one of two FODEM members elected to
the National Assembly last year.
Henri Pouzere, 56, is a human rights activist who was elected
to the National Assembly last year. He has been practising law
in Gabon. Although Pouzere is an independent candidate, he has
signed the UFAP pledge to support a joint opposition candidate
in the second round of voting.
Joseph Abossolo, a 54-year-old US-trained economist, is a
businessman who has been living in France. He served as High
Commissioner for Civic Action under Kolingba and is an
Fidele Ngouandjika, 45, has presented himself as the
"candidate of the youth." An independent, he has sharply
criticised CAR political parties as mere "ethnic/tribal
associations". A telecommunications engineer, Ngouandjika is
president of the national karate federation and holds a karate
Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
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