Politically, the CAR is an emerging democracy, whose population has the vote from age 21. The Republic's head of state is elected by popular vote for a 6-year term. He or she is responsible for appointing a prime minister as head of government, the council of ministers (cabinet), and the judges who serve the supreme and constitutional courts. The legal system is based in French law. The parliamentary structure is a 109-seat unicameral National Assembly, whose members are elected by the people and serve for 5 years. The National Assembly is advised by the Economic and Regional Council. The 2 bodies, when deliberating together, are known as the Congress. Local government is administered by 14 departments called prefectures, plus 2 economic prefectures, while the capital, Bangui, is designated as a commune.
There are 11 political parties, which field candidates for the National Assembly, but only a handful win representation. Until the mid-1990s, however, the country was run as a 1-party state, the party of the president. After the adoption of a constitution in January 1995, the system became more democratic and representative. By 2000, there were 12 political parties operating in the country.
An army officer, Jean Bedel Bokassa, stands as a potent symbol of the corruption and excess that characterizes many African leaders. Bokassa seized power in a military coup in 1965 and ruled for 14 years until 1979. In 1977, he crowned himself emperor-for-life in a lavish ceremony and began nationalizing the CAR's few industries. Under Bokassa's management, the economic steadily declined. The country's 3 other presidents since independence (David Dacko, Andre Kolingba, and Ange-Felix Patasse), they have proved unable to manage the CAR's economy.
After many decades of stability, army mutinies in 1996 and 1997 destabilized the political institutions and damaged the economy of the CAR. The mutinies began after soldiers, students, and civil servants protested over not being paid for months. The protest widened into widespread looting and destruction in the capital. After 3 years, a regional military force and a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force reestablished political stability, allowing the CAR to organize democratic elections. The UN force was removed in 2000, but the budgetary problems—if not the open hostility—that caused the mutinies remain. Unable to reduce widespread tax evasion, the Central African government remains unable to raise enough revenue to pay its employees.