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Contested Vote in Central African Republic Risks Another Crisis, Presidential Candidate Says

Sputnik News

08:45 GMT 23.12.2020

MOSCOW (Sputnik) Ekaterina Ivanova - The Central African Republic must create a safe environment for voters this Sunday to avert a surge in violence that lack of confidence in the general election results may cause, presidential candidate Martin Ziguele said in an interview.

"We have to pay close attention to this and make sure that there is a minimum political coordination to calm the situation and proceed with the elections. Otherwise the results of the elections will be contested and will serve as an argument to contribute to what we are seeing now," Ziguele, the country's former prime minister and nominee of the leftist Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People party, said.

Ziguele said that armed groups controlled large swaths of the country's rural areas, home to 70 percent of its population, making it impossible to collect taxes and have a balanced budget.

He lashed out at the UN peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance mission, MINUSCA, saying it had failed to meet its basic objectives of guaranteeing peace and feeding the hungry.

"What is efficiency? It's the result… If you ask 10 Central Africans what is their main concern, nine will say it's security. And another five or six will say that they are hungry," Ziguele added.

He said the armed groups needed a will to "disappear rapidly." They were to disband and reintegrate into the Central African Republic's society under the Sudan-brokered 2019 peace deal. Two years on, militias are stronger than before and the disarmament has not materialized.

A surge in violence across the Central African Republic has forced the majority of presidential candidates to abandon the campaign trail over security fears, Martin Ziguele added.

"As the situation deteriorated in the last three days, most of the candidate suspended their trips inside the state. It's as if there was no presidential campaigns," Ziguele said.

The United Nations had to deploy peacekeeping forces after rebels groups, which control much of the war-torn country, advanced on the capital Bangui over the weekend following the top court's decision to bar the ousted president, Francois Bozize, from running. The government accused him of plotting a coup.

"When there is a security issue in the state there is a sentiment of general insecurity which takes over, it increases fear and panic in the society in the moment when people have to group for electoral debates. These are the things that make us worry about the development of the situation," Ziguele explained.

He said security reforms were both a short- and medium-term task. The government needs to deal with the existing security emergency, which has engulfed the most populous regions in the country, to clear the way for the general election on Sunday.

None of the Central African Republic's presidential hopefuls commands the support of enough voters to avoid a runoff, Ziguele said.

"There are seventeen candidates and none of them can win in the first round. The competition will be tight, because all the candidates are experienced. It's not like in 2015 after we came out of the transitional period. There are clear political views, and Central Africans are politically mature, so one cannot dream of a victory in the first round. There will be a second round," Ziguele said.

He added voters had matured politically since the country came out of an 18-month-long transitional period to elect ex-Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadera as president, following the 2013 coup. Touadera has struggled to control of the country, most of which remains in rebels' grip.

"The aspect that Central Africans will be judging, which is their main concern, is security. One has to be clear on this. One wants to know how the country will get rid of the armed groups and have indefinite peace. And they wait for a strong response. They will not be satisfied with promises," Ziguele warned.

Voters in the African country will go to the polls this Sunday to elect a president and lawmakers to the National Assembly. The country's top court has approved 17 candidates for presidential elections, including Ziguele, but barred former President Francois Bozize from running, triggering clashes over the weekend.

The Central African Republic and Russia should enhance their cooperation in all areas, including in military training, while keeping good ties with France, Martin Ziguele said.

"We have diplomatic relations with Russia, former USSR, since 1960s. We want the relations between our country and Russia to be strengthened and developed in all the sectors, including in military training," Ziguele said.

He said the African nation's government needed to make sure that this cooperation was not perceived as Russia's support for a particular person or a regime. He added that CAR needed all help it could get from other global powers, such as France, which gave its former colony independence in 1960.

"Bilateral cooperation existed between France and Russia even before the ruling of the Russian tsarina Catherine the Great. CAR cannot be a battlefield between these two states. It is a notion that seem surreal to us. We are a developing state and we need support of all the countries in the world," Ziguele noted.

The already unstable African nation saw bloody clashes erupt over the weekend between the government and mostly Christian rebels, who tried to storm the national capital of Bangui. The clashes happened just a week before the general election. The authorities accused ousted President Francois Bozize of plotting a coup after he was barred from running.

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