Elections in the Central African Republic are taking place in the context of a political and humanitarian crisis. Refugees shelter under tarps as they seek to rebuild their home in Bangui, the capital, in 2017. Photo credit: VOA/Z. Baddorf (public domain)
Freedom House Rating
Legislative Runoffs and First Rounds in Places Where Voting Was Disrupted
March 14, 2021
December 2025 (due)
Presidential and Partial Legislative Elections
December 27, 2020
Legislative Elections (Re-run following annulment of results)
February 14, 2016
Presidential and Legislative Elections
December 30, 2015 (Second round February 14, 2016)
The Central African Republic (CAR) held presidential and partial legislative elections on December 27, 2020. Voting was disrupted in some areas, so consequently, those constituencies will hold the first round of their legislative elections on March 14, 2021. In addition, some of the constituencies that did vote on December 27 will hold runoff elections for their legislators.
Meanwhile, local elections – which have not taken place in the Central African Republic since 1988 – are also due in 2020/2021, although it is far from clear when or whether they will happen.
These elections are taking place in the context of a humanitarian crisis and a crisis of governance. The country has had multiparty elections since 1993, but a series of coups and instability have prevented democracy from flourishing.
Sectarian clashes have been taking place since 2013, when Seleka (“alliance” in Sango, a local language) Muslim insurgents forced President François Bozizé (who himself had seized power in a 2003 coup) from office and installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim and a northerner. Because CAR is more than 80 percent Christian and animist and about 10-15 percent Muslim, southern Christians had held the presidency since independence from France in 1960. Therefore, having a Muslim president caused some controversy. In response, southern Christian militias called “anti-Balaka” (“invincible” in Sango) clashed with the government and attacked civilians.
Following the collapse of Djotodia’s presidency less than a year after it began, a UN-backed transitional government under Catherine Samba-Panza subsequently took over until the 2015-2016 presidential election. After a first round with 30 candidates, former prime minister and mathematics professor Faustin-Archange Touadéra (sometimes called FAT) won runoff against another former prime minister, Anicet-Georges Dologuélé.
Dologuélé conceded and urged his supporters to accept the results peacefully. The African Union judged the election to be generally successful despite irregularities and allegations of fraud. On the other hand, the concurrent legislative elections were annulled and subsequently re-run in early 2016 due to fraud.
A 2017 peace agreement between the government and all but one of the armed militias did little to stop the violence. Fighting continues despite a new agreement signed in February 2019 that gave government roles to some of the insurgent leaders. In the same vein, the government has extremely limited – if any – power outside Bangui, the capital. Consequently, violence could break out again around the elections. Moreover, civilians continue to face attacks from various armed groups.
Political parties in Central African Republic are weak – a large chunk of the National Assembly members are independents and the parties that do function tend to be vehicles for specific politicians rather than ideologies. Opposition party activists – and journalists who write about them – face intimidation.
Touadéra ran for re-election, facing a total of 21 challengers. He won in the first round, with 53.9 percent of the vote. Former prime minister Dologuélé, who launched and now heads new coalition of opposition parties called Coalition de l’Opposition Démocratique 2020 (COD-2020), placed second, with 21 percent of the vote.
However, ahead of the elections, the country’s constitutional court disqualified former president Bozizé from running. Bozizé had returned to the country in December 2019 after six years abroad, but he faces an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity in addition to UN Security Council sanctions due to his support of anti-Balaka attacks. As a result of Bozizé’s disqualification, tensions shot up. Bozizé joined the rebel alliance Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which ironically includes some of the Séléka groups that ousted him from office in 2013. CPC subsequently seized towns around Bangui, which led to numerous civilian deaths and exacerbated the ongoing refugee crisis.
Although Bozizé sought to force an election delay, the polls did take place on December 27 in some areas. However, turnout was only 35 percent. Consequently, the opposition urged a re-run. However, courts upheld the results. Tensions have continued to escalate since the polls, and the country is currently in a state of emergency.
Following Touadéra’s ascent to the presidency, France withdrew its peacekeeping force, which had been in the country since 2013. As a result, Russia has ramped up its political and military involvement in exchange for mining rights. Last year, three Russian journalists from a newspaper critical of the Kremlin were killed in the country while they were investigating the role of the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor, in exploiting the CAR’s mineral wealth. A former Russian intelligence officer is Touadéra’s national security advisor, and the Wagner Group handles Touadéra’s personal security detail.
Samuel Ramani, in a piece for RUSI, notes: “As the CAR civil war passes its eighth anniversary, Russia has emerged as the leading external military and diplomatic stakeholder in the country. Since Touadéra’s short-term position is secure, Russia will seek to counter French power projection displays, such as its 24 December flyover mission, and work with the African Union on a more comprehensive peace settlement. With the international community focused on other challenges – such as extremism in the Sahel, Al-Shabaab’s resurgence in Somalia and the Libyan civil war – Russia’s hegemony in CAR could quietly consolidate in 2021.”
These arrangements have drawn criticism from opposition figures such as former National Assembly president Karim Meckassoua and groups such as É Zingo Biani – a coalition of opposition politicians and civil society activists.
BBC (February 16, 2021): Central African Republic: War crimes trial of two ex-militia leaders starts
Al Jazeera (February 13, 2021): CAR to hold runoff parliamentary elections in March
Samuel Ramani, RUSI (February 12, 2021): Russia’s Strategy in the Central African Republic
Human Rights Watch (February 7, 2021): Central African Republic: First Anti-Balaka Trial at ICC: Milestone for Justice for Victims of Conflict Since 2012
John A. Lechner and Alexandra Lamarche, Foreign Policy (January 22, 2021): Outside Powers Are Making the Conflict in the Central African Republic Worse
Jack Losh, Al Jazeera (January 19, 2020): In war-weary CAR, humanitarian crisis deepens amid fresh violence
Jean Fernand Koena, AP (January 4, 2021): Central African Republic president Touadera reelected
France24/Reuters (December 3, 2020): Central African Republic court rejects ex-president Bozizé’s election candidacy
Michèle Joseph, Voice of America (November 12, 2020 – in French): December presidential election in CAR: Touadéra facing 21 candidates
Rodrigue Forku, Andalou Agency (November 13, 2020): UN extends Central African Republic mission for 1 year
Corbeau News (November 7, 2020 – in French): RCA: presidential election of December 27, Catherine Samba-Panza, twelve candidates registered with the Election Authority
RFI (November 9, 2020 – in French): Elections in the Central African Republic: “I will not be a candidate” declares Michel Djotodia
Charlotte Cosset, RFI (November 8, 2020 – in French): Legislative elections in the Central African Republic: for women candidates, an obstacle course
Freeman Sipila, VOA (October 12, 2020 – in French): Legislative elections in the Central African Republic: concerns persist on the security plan
John-Paul Holden, The Herald Scotland (October 6, 2020): Scottish businessman bids to become president of the Central African Republic
Al Jazeera (September 26, 2020): CAR President Touadera announces candidacy for December election
AFP (September 18, 2020 – in French): Uncertainties about the presidential election at the end of December in the Central African Republic
Al Jazeera (July 25, 2020): Francois Bozize, deposed CAR leader, announces presidential bid
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