Congo Republic’s government announced on Tuesday it would hold a referendum this month on constitutional change, in a move that could allow veteran President Denis Sassou Nguesso to extend his decades-long rule. The 71-year-old former military commander has ruled Congo Republic, an oil producer, for all but five years since 1979. He won his previous terms in disputed elections in 2002 and 2009. While Sassou Nguesso has not officially declared his candidacy for the June 2016 presidential election, he is widely expected to seek a third term. The constitution of 2002 limits the number of terms to two and excludes candidates over 70.
“The government is charged with putting the constitutional project at the disposition of the Congolese so that its contents can be widely diffused and debated,” said government spokesman Thierry Lezin Moungalla late on Monday. The vote will take place on October 25.
Clément Miérassa, leader of the Congolese Social Democratic Party (PSDC) which is part of a coalition of opposition parties, called the announcement a “constitutional coup”.
“We will use all possible democratic means to block this project which is a blow to Congolese democracy,” he told Reuters by telephone, renewing an earlier call for peaceful protests.