Central African Republic Presidential and Legislative Elections: December 27, 2020

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

Not Free
Government Type
Presidential Republic
5.4 million
Presidential Election
December 27, 2020 (Second round February 14, 2021)
Legislative Elections
February or March 2020 (due)
Local Elections
Long overdue
Presidential and Legislative Elections
December 30, 2015 (Second round February 14, 2016)
Legislative Elections (Re-run following annulment of results)
February 14, 2016
Local Elections

The Central African Republic (CAR) has scheduled presidential and legislative elections for December 27, 2020. However, delays are possible, either due to COVID-19 or general instability or a combination thereof.

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.

Political Context

Civil War and Ongoing Sectarian Clashes

The upcoming 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.

Constant Threat of Violence

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.

The 2020 Elections in Central African Republic: Potentially Crowded Presidential Field

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 is running for re-election. He faces a total of 21 challengers. Samba-Panza has announced her candidacy. Similarly, Bozizé, who returned to the country in December 2019 after six years abroad, has also announced his intent to run, but the country’s top court rejected his candidacy. 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.

Dologuélé currently serves as a member of the National Assembly. He recently launched and now heads new coalition of opposition parties called Coalition de l’Opposition Démocratique 2020 (COD-2020). COD-2020 could potentially unite behind Dologuélé.

Meanwhile, Djotodia returned to the country in January 2020, and while he may have harbored presidential ambitions at one point, he subsequently announced that he would not be a candidate.

A wildcard (and probably quixotic) candidate is Edgard Kalambani, a former basketball star in the CAR who currently lives in Scotland. Kalambani is running on a platform of combatting corruption.

Geopolitical Context

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.

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.

The international community has been involved in encouraging CAR to hold the elections on time.

Curated News and Analysis

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

Hans de Marie Heungoup, International Crisis Group (March 13, 2020): In Search of the State in the Central African Republic
Mathieu Olivier, The Africa Report (August 23, 2019): Russia’s murky business dealings in the Central African Republic

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Updated December 9, 2020
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