As the people of Congo Brazzaville go to the polls in a referendum to remove term and age limits for the presidency, Transparency International warns of the dangers of allowing political leaders to amend a country’s constitution to stay in power and of having no independent electoral commission to ensure transparent elections.
The move comes at a time when activists and politicians who speak out against the government and the president are being arrested and jailed.
“The government should preserve freedom of expression. The role of civil society is more than crucial at this turning moment for the Republic of Congo. No matter how popular a president is, the will to change the constitution is too often a reflection of the very failure of the governance system and a push for power by entrenched elites,” said Chantal Uwimana, Regional Director for Africa at Transparency International.
A similar action in Burkina Faso to allow its president to stand for a third term in office prompted violent demonstrations and a coup before order was restored.
"The manipulation and the instrumentalisation of the constitution will create a negative precedent for the democratic future of the country and will undermine the consensus achieved by the end of the civil war in 1997," said Christian Mounzeo of RPDH, Transparency International’s national contact group in Congo Brazzaville.
RPDH and its partners, who have come together under the “Tournons la page” platform (TLP-Congo), also denounce the lack of an independent electoral commission, the lack of a reliable list of registered voters, and the lack of a national consensus to hold the referendum.
“It would be absurd to even suggest that the people’s decision will be preserved while the voting system is not transparent,” said RPDH’s Mounzeo.
Transparency International is particularly concerned about the recent detentions of activists by the army, police and intelligence services including arbitrary detentions without any legal warrant, as well as manipulation of the judiciary to restrict the right to peacefully demonstrate.
The deployment of security forces, as seen even in authorised demonstrations, is a show of strength to intimidate the people and avoid any expression of dissent against the constitutional amendment, even during a campaigning period.
Transparency International warns that the hijacking of the constitution is a threat to peace in Congo and the sub-region. The international community should appeal for the authorities to respect the constitution to avoid the instability that has occurred in Burundi and Burkina Faso.
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