Central African Republic’s Parliament seated after UN support for polls

New York, May 7: The top United Nations official in the Central African Republic (CAR) met this week with the new National Assembly, which took office after a series of successful elections supported by UN peacekeepers in the country.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the country, known by its French acronym, MINUSCA, said the operation’s contribution was crucial to the success of this process.

“We worked hand-in-hand with the Transitional Authorities, other key international partners of the G8-CAR and the whole UN family in the country,”  Onanga-Anyanga said, referring to the group which includes representatives of the UN, the African Union, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), European Union (EU), France, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), United States, and the World Bank.

“Most importantly, it was the massive mobilization of the Central African people that made a huge difference,”  Onanga-Anyanga added.

His comments followed a meeting with the newly elected National Assembly which opened its first extraordinary session in the capital, Bangui, on 3 May, with 128 out of the 140 Members of Parliament. The remaining 12 parliamentarians will be elected during partial elections scheduled for 15 May.

The opening session took place one month after the inauguration of President Faustin Archange Toudera, the first elected leader in the country since March 2013 when a coup by Séléka rebels toppled the Government of former President Francois Bozize. The coup sparked fighting that killed thousands and forced one-fifth of the country’s population to flee, causing communities to split along ethnic and religious lines.

The situation in the CAR on Friday is very different from what it was in 2013, but much remains to be done. MINUSCA peacekeepers have played a key role in helping the country move towards greater political stability, from assisting with early planning to transporting ballots and securing electoral sites.

Preparations for the polls

MINUSCA was established in 2014 to protect civilians and support the transitional government. When the UN Security Council renewed the Mission’s mandate for another year in April 2015, one of the roles of UN peacekeepers was to work on an urgent basis to support the Transitional Authorities, headed by Bangui’s former mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, and the National Electoral Authority (NEA), to hold “free, fair, transparent and inclusive presidential and legislative elections.”

That meant supporting a constitutional referendum on 13 December and legislative and presidential elections in late December, February and March.

Around 9 December, the first flights with electoral materials, including ballots for the second round of the presidential and the annulled legislative elections, arrived at Bangui’s Mpoko airport.

From Bangui, MINUSCA transported the sensitive materials – including ballot papers, boxes and voting screens – to polling locations throughout the capital. The Mission also deployed electoral documents, as well as electoral workers, to five of the 16 prefectures.

“Given the conditions in the country we had to move by air roughly over 350 tons of materials in coordination with the national authorities,” said Alain Nkanga, a MINUSCA Electoral Officer involved with the logistics.

“I recall that for the referendum when we received the ballot paper, it was four days before the elections. In principle it is very difficult to deploy that much material in just four days, including to far off villages. But thanks to the good cooperation with Government, this challenge was met.”

The UN helped to make sure that not only citizens of CAR within the country’s borders could vote, but also those seeking refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo.

Tripartite agreements were worked out with the Governments of those asylum countries, allowing the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide logistical support to National Electoral Authorities to refugee camps and urban refugee settlements and for registration materials prior to and during the vote.

As a result, the turnout rate for the first round of the presidential elections among the registered refugee population was 61 per cent, while the turnout rate for the second round was 40 per cent of registered refugees.

For all voters, there was outreach to teach them about the elections and the importance of voting.

In Ippy town, Ouaka County, local resident Madina Dia, helped to organize a workshop with MINUSCA’s support. Dozens of people attended from local authorities and communities, including religious leaders, youth and women.

“For the elections to go well, we have to encourage the population to vote en masse,” said  Dia.

The workshop also covered the role that media play during elections, such as helping to explain the process and strengthening messages of peace and social cohesion, according to participant, Mathurin Lakara.

First round of voting

On 30 December 2015, after three days of delays, military and police unity from the 11,000-strong MINUSCA joined soldiers from the French Sangaris force and local security teams in “a strategy of pre-emption, prevention and reaction to anticipate, prevent and react against all imponderables and all risks,” the Mission reported.

Throughout the country, more than 62 per cent of the eligible population turned out to cast ballots in a mostly peaceful first round of the presidential and legislative elections.

“I voted because I’ve suffered long enough. Central Africans have suffered a lot. We must vote! It is our civic duty, as citizens,” said one voter interviewed by MINUSCA’s Guira FM radio.

Another said that she had been waiting in line for some time, but was determined to cast her ballot: “It doesn’t even discourage me because the future of my country is at work. It’s my duty. I have to vote.”

As none of the 30 presidential candidates met the required threshold of 50 per cent vote, the elections went to a second round.

Visiting polling sites,  Onanga-Anyanga, said that by voting, people had shown they wanted a “peaceful and absolutely transparent” electoral process.

“These people want to move on,” he added. “These people want to turn the page.”

The polls were preceded by a referendum on 13 December, extended to 14 December, for a proposed new constitution that would limit future presidents to two five-year terms in office. The referendum passed with 93 per cent of the votes.

Second round of the election

On 6 February, the two candidates for the second round of presidential elections, Anicet-Georges Dolonguele and Faustin Archange Touadera, officially launched their campaigns.

Both candidates reiterated to MINUSCA their adherence to the Electoral Code of Conduct and their commitment to peaceful electoral campaigns.

Following the 14 February vote, President Toudera was inaugurated on 30 March, in a ceremony in Bangui which was attended by the head of UN peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General Hervé Ladsous, and other senior officials from the international community.

On Friday, the situation – for which we have waited for three years – is a decisive symbol of the Central African Republic’s return on the road of progress, development and reconciliation,”  Ladsous said.

“The time has come! We want this President to put an end to the crisis we’ve been going through for a long time now,” a spectator at President Touadera’s inauguration told Guira FM.

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