(Oct. 1, 2015) On September 22, 2015, Denis Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Republic of the Congo, announced that a referendum would be held on the adoption of a new Constitution. (Congo: Denis Sassou Nguesso annonce un référendum sur un projet de nouvelle Constitution [Congo: Denis Sassou Nguesso Announces Referendum on a Project for a New Constitution], Jeune Afrique (Sept. 23, 2015).)
The current Constitution of the Republic of the Congo limits the presidential office to a maximum of two terms and also limits the age at which one can run for president to 70 years. (Constitution de la Republique du Congo (Jan. 20, 2002), arts. 57 &58, Presidency website.) It appears that the principal purpose of adopting a new Constitution may be to do away with these two restrictions, which would prohibit Sassou Nguesso from running for president again in 2016. (Congo: Sassou Nguesso annonce un référendum sur une nouvelle Constitution [Congo: Sassou Nguesso Announces a Referendum on a New Constitution], LE MONDE (Sept. 23, 2015).)
Sassou Nguesso, who is now 72 years old, has long been the ruler of the Republic of the Congo; he was President from 1979 to 1992, a period marked by single-party rule, and again took power in 1997 after a violent civil war. He was elected to the presidency in 2002, and re-elected in 2009. (Id.) He is therefore now in his second term under the Congolese Constitution, which was adopted in 2002.
The Congolese government denies that the purpose of a new Constitution would be to allow Sassou Nguesso to run for President again in 2016, but the Congolese opposition and many NGOs denounce what is widely being described as a “Constitutional coup.” (Congo: les motifs d’un changement de Constitution ne convainquent pas [Congo: the Explanations for a Change of Constitution Fail to Convince], RFI (Sept. 26, 2015).) On September 27, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo’s capital, to demonstrate against the proposed constitutional change. (Philon Bondenga & Joe Bavier, Tens of Thousands Rally Against Changes to Congo’s Constitution, REUTERS (Sept. 27, 2015).) As of yet, however, there appears to be no indication that the government might change its course.