When 31 years as president is not enough, you change the constitution

If you don’t like the rules, change them.
If you don’t like the rules, change them.
Image: Reuters
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Last weekend, citizens in Congo-Brazzaville voted in a referendum to decide on whether the incumbent president, Denis Sassou Nguesso (pictured above), should be allowed to run for a third consecutive term at the next election in July 2016.

Local reports said that the referendum had a 72% turnout, with more than 92% of voters approving a change in the constitution to allow Sassou Nguesso to run for another seven-year term.

But Pascal Tsaty Mabiala, secretary for an opposition party, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy, is not convinced. Speaking to Reuters, Mabiala dubbed the result “a fantasy.” Given reports of low voter turnout on the day of the referendum, Mabiala called for the “discredited” vote to be annulled.

“Either they annul it or else [Sassou Nguesso] will impose a dictatorship and the Congolese will not accept it,” Mabiala told Reuters.

Aged 72, and having served 31 years as president in two stints, Sassou Nguesso ranks among Africa’s longest-serving presidents (paywall). According to Congo’s constitution (pdf, pg.12), no one may serve more than two consecutive terms as president. The constitution also requires that a candidate be at least 40 years old, and at most 70 years old, at the time of announcing his candidature.

Sassou Nguesso was first elected in a single-party election in 1979, not long after he had co-founded the Congolese Party of Labour. He began to lose his grip on power in the early 1990s, as the international community pressured the country to adopt a new constitution, making way for a multi-party election in 1992, which Sassou Nguesso lost. But he came back to power in 1997 and clearly isn’t keen to lose his position again.

According to the Economist (paywall), a popular phrase that has been used to rally opposition supporters against the president’s plan plot for another term is “Sassoufit”—a pun on the French phrase ça suffit, meaning “that’s enough” or “enough is enough”—and an obvious play on “Sassou.”