The political party of Central Africa’s ousted leader threw its support on Tuesday behind former prime minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele’s bid for the presidency in polls on Sunday seen as crucial to ending years of bloodshed.
Francois Bozize was toppled as president in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation. Their abuses sparked reprisals by Christian anti-balaka militias, plunging the former French colony into a cycle of inter-religious killing that has led to de facto partition.
Bozize, who has lived in exile mainly in Uganda since he was deposed, saw his own candidacy for the Dec. 27 election rejected by the constitutional court earlier this month, but still has support among many Central Africans.
“We are going to do what we can so that you win the election in the first round,” said Bertin Bea, secretary general of Bozize’s Kwa Na Kwa party. “You have the support of the party, the support of activists and the support of President Francois Bozize.”
Elections in Central African Republic have faced repeated delays. A constitutional referendum – the first step in a process of holding presidential and legislative elections to restore democratic rule following two successive transitional governments – was held on Dec. 13.
Some 93 percent of voters cast ballots in favour of the new constitution, paving the way for the polls, though turnout was just 38 percent, the elections commission said on Tuesday.
The government that succeeded Bozize issued an international warrant for his arrest, accusing him of crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide during his decade in power, allegations he rejects. He is also subject to a United Nations travel ban and asset freeze.
However Bozize remains popular with many Central Africans, particularly in the southwest, and his party’s support will bolster Dologuele’s chances at the polls.
“With this agreement, you join in the possibility of returning to the management of power,” Dologuele told Kwa Na Kwa members following the announcement of the deal.
Thousands have died and around one in five Central Africans has fled violence. Fighting that began as clashes between rival militias has degenerated into a conflict between Christians and Muslims.
The country is rich in diamonds, uranium, gold, oil and other assets which are coveted by the rival factions as well as by foreign interests.
(Additional reporting by Sebastien Lamba; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Joe Bavier)