This is a guest post by Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Manager at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Washington, DC.
On February 21, the National Elections Agency announced preliminary results in the Central African Republic’s runoff election, which showed Faustin Archange Touadéra the runaway winner with 62.71 percent of the vote. His opponent Anicet Georges Dologuélé accepted the outcome and announced he would not challenge the results in court, while also claiming that fraud was organized and widespread. The campaigns had each deployed 730 pollwatchers, trained with assistance from the National Democratic Institute, MINUSCA, UNDP and the NED. This provided a needed measure of confidence in the returns after the Transitional Constitutional Court had annulled the chaotic first round of legislative polls. While some problems persisted in the runoff, during which the legislative elections were re-run, Dologuélé may have concluded that it would be difficult to overcome Touadéra’s whopping 25-point margin of victory in court. However imperfect the process may have been, the next president will take office uncontested and with a popular mandate.
Touadéra will not, however, have many resources with which to fulfill his mandate. The list of priorities begins with providing security to the population but also includes building physical infrastructure and stronger state institutions. This will require re-establishing the country’s armed forces, which were dismantled during the crisis, and deploying state officials to—and maintaining them in—areas the government does not necessarily control. In many places offices, records, and communications may be destroyed. Reconciliation must be a priority, so that grievances over the recent conflict do not become the seeds of a new one. To face these challenges, the country will require significant international aid and support. Touadéra says that to obtain this aid, his government will have to attack corruption and strengthen accountability and the justice system.
Recognition of his accomplishments as prime minister (2008 – 2013) and as a university mathematics professor helped Touadéra gain a surprise win against Dologuélé. During his tenure, civil servants were paid regularly, through direct deposit to their bank accounts. The security and economic challenges of his tenure may have appeared minor, compared to the destruction and violence that followed the Séléka overthrow of former president François Bozizé. In addition to name recognition, Touadéra’s ability to build a coalition—most of the eliminated presidential candidates rallied to him, despite a first round finish behind Dologuélé with less than 20 percent of the vote—also played a key role. Touadéra also carried strongholds of former President Bozizé’s Kwa Na Kwa party, even though its leaders backed Dologuélé. Moreover, he achieved all this while running as an independent, and with a relatively small campaign budget.
To institute his platform of security, investment, reforms and social services, Touadéra will have to overcome a history of weak institutions and a fractured polity. The new National Assembly will hopefully enjoy more legitimacy than the last, which famously included numerous relatives of Bozizé and was chosen in elections that were widely perceived as flawed. The new constitution calls for the creation of a senate, to be elected by local governments in a country that has never held local elections. Before he can effectively address the country’s pressing needs, Touadéra will have to form a governing coalition out of the many parties and numerous independent legislators expected to sit in the new legislature, for which runoff elections are still needed in 95 (almost two-thirds) of the constituencies.
The country’s new political framework seeks to prevent the use of arms for political gain (Const. of the CAR, Title II, Art. 31), a recognition of how armed groups—and attempts to co-opt them—have disrupted past efforts to build sustainable democratic institutions. For armed groups to lose their influence, however, the new president and new institutions will have to deliver on their promises of security, reconciliation, accountability, and meeting people’s basic needs. Despite the magnitude of the challenges, the new leaders must show progress, and communicate it, quickly. With hundreds of thousands of Central Africans still displaced and much of the country still at the mercy of armed groups such as Séléka, the Lord’s Resistance Army and anti-balaka gangs, the honeymoon is likely to be short.