The Republic of Congo will hold a referendum on proposals for a new constitution that could allow President, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to extend his hold on power, he announced.
“I decided to give the people a direct voice” on the bill, Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled for 30 of the past 35 years, said in a statement on public radio and television, though he gave no dates for the vote.
The 72-year-old president had previously convened a “national dialogue”, which came out “by a large majority” in favour of amending the constitution to remove an upper limit on the age of presidential candidates as well as the number of terms the head of state can serve.
The changes effectively pave the way for him to stand for a third term in 2016. Opponents have branded the forum’s conclusions a “constitutional coup”.
Sassou Nguesso first led the Republic of Congo under a single-party system from 1979 until the introduction of multi-party politics, which culminated in elections that he lost in 1992.
He returned to power in 1997 at the end of a bitter civil war, and was elected president in 2002, then again in 2009, prompting cries of fraud from his foes.
Under the current constitution, presidential mandates are limited to two terms and only candidates under 70 can run for the top office.