Burundi, Rwanda, and now Congo; another African president set to change term limit rules

Central Africa no region for term limits: All the leaders there have ignored, tried to, or are about to change the laws.

REPUBLIC of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso received the green light on Friday from a political forum on the future of the country’s institutions to try extend his lengthy rule.

It was the second political action in favour of extending presidential term limits in Central Africa in the week. On Tuesday Rwandan lawmakers voted 99% to hold a referendum on proposed changes to the constitution that would allow President Paul Kagame to extend his 15 years in power.

READ: 99% of Rwandan lawmakers vote for changes to allow Kagame extend his 15 years in power

At least 3.7 million Rwandans petitioned the legislature to amend the charter, Speaker of Parliament Donatille Mukabalisa said.

In Burundi, the country plunged into violence after President Pierre Nkurunziza pushed ahead with plans for stand in elections next week. 

Opposition and civil society say he is seeking a third “illegal” term, which is in violation of constitution and the Arusha peace agreement that ended the country’s deadly civil war  just over 10 hears  ago. Over 70 people have been killed, and 170,000 fled as refugees into neighbouring countries following the Burundi violence.

Participants in the Congo’ “national dialogue” convened by the president, which were boycotted by the main opposition coalition, came out “by a large majority” in favour of amending the constitution to remove an upper limit on the age of presidential candidates as well as the number of terms the head of state can serve, according to a communique.

The statement read out at the end of the weeklong talks in the southwestern town of Sibiti, paves the way for a referendum on a new constitution allowing Sassou Nguesso, who has led the country for a total of 30 years, to stand for re-election in 2016.

Opposition leaders reacted angrily to the forum’s conclusions, seeing in them a ploy by Sassou Nguesso to extend his rule.

“What has happened is…a constitutional coup decided by President Sassou Nguesso,” Clement Mierassa of the Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (FROCAD), an opposition coalition, told AFP.

“We have a responsibility to work through peaceful and democratic means to stop this coup,” he added.

Under the current constitution, presidential mandates are limited to two terms and only candidates under 70 can run for the top office.

Sassou Nguesso, 72, first led the Republic of Congo under a single-party system from 1979 until the introduction of multi-party politics, which culminated in elections that he lost in 1992.

He returned to power in 1997 at the end of a bitter civil war, and was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, prompting cries of fraud from his foes.

The situation is still fluid in the Central African Republic (CAR), but with Democratic Republic of Congo’s president Joseph Kabila widely expected to make another push to extend his term, after he had back down earlier in the year in the face of violent protests, all the leaders in central Africa have ignored, tried to, or are about to change presidential term limit laws to enable them stay in office longer.

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