DRC polls marred by irregularities – Auspices for a hot post-electoral stew

Again – this is considered as a cautious attempt to comment on the Congolese electoral process. Yesterday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Democratic Republic of Congo have been shattered by local outbreaks of violence and a general chaos due to several formal problems, amongst them non-registration of voters, fake registrations, uncertainty about where to vote, irregularities in polling and counting processes, and a couple of straight fraud attempts. Many of the mentioned have finally led to the CENI extending the election in numerous polling stations all over the country while in others counting has yet begun or has even been finished.

Altogether though, many international voices as well as the national independent electoral commission CENI and the Kabila government have appreciated the rather calm election process during the polling day – with the opposition, especially Vital Kamerhe (UNC) and Etienne Tshisekedi (UDPS) heavily criticising the delays, frauds and forcible intrusion by security forces (notably soldiers from FARDC but also policemen). This contrasting opinion suggest a much more critical phase of the electoral process still being ahead and many observers wonder, whether the proclamation of provisional, and later final, results will haul the DRC into turmoil and political quagmire.

A crucial point in yesterday’s elections (and apparently in today’s extension of the voting as well) is the little number of international observers. The EU for example as a major provider of international electoral observation missions (UEMOE) have only provided 150 observers for this election, much less than in 2006. Other institutions have not sent considerably more, with SADC and their 200 observers being slightly above the EU. Reports by Radio Okapi and other present media channels have deplored that many provinces have suffered from total absence of independent observers throughout the whole polling process. Only in the provinces of Kinshasa, North and South Kivu, and Bas-Congo they are said to have had a meaningful presence on the ground. National and local observers have not succeeded either in replacing them, for two reasons: First, DRC’s civil society is lacking personal and material resources to organise a coherent countrywide monitoring and second, where they have managed to oversee the process, many have been excluded from either the actual poll or the subsequent vote counting – sometimes even from both mentioned.

This said, there is basically no real way to proof that these elections have been carried out in an acceptable way (which means few fraud and rigging) or not. Either winning faction will therefore face the large and wide legitimacy problem many commentators have posed during the campaigning period – and they will be right. Especially if the international community with the UN in the forefront, but also regional and international powers such as South Africa, USA, Belgium, or France will opt for backing the “winner” of the elections, this needs not to strengthen the possibility of a peaceful and calm ending. Côte d’Ivoire has given a stunning example on how disastrous international interference can be if central and underlying patterns of the conflict(s) are ignored. In Côte d’Ivoire this was the case with regards to the ethnocentric concept of ‘Ivoirité’ and the obvious fact that both sides had committed mass crimes and both sides had some sort of legal-constitutional basis for their claim of having won elections. In DRC, the setting is quite different albeit the structural nature of possibly emerging post-electoral conflicts may bear the same dynamics. After reports about burned polling stations, destruction of ballots and ballot boxes, abduction of ballot boxes by political parties and candidates, prefilled ballot boxes (mostly in favour of incumbent president Kabila), non-admission of voters, shootings in front of polling stations, and many other incidents) there is basically enough potential argumentation ground for any candidate not willing to accept the upcoming results. This will both have grave repercussions on the standing of the international actors, that may have to decide on which side they stand but also for the yet tense relations between the Congolese political protagonists.

Kabila’s constitutional trick to abolish the previously existing second “run-off” polling round is likely to exacerbate a scenario in which chaos might spread after publishing the results. Of course Kabila’s rationale behind that decision is comprehensive: First, he wanted to increase his own chances to win with only a relative majority and second, he might have thought of a strategic advantage in dispersing possible uprising of a still divided opposition which – after a run-off poll – would probably have galvanised behind a common Kamerhe or Tshisekedi faction. That calculus is not to underestimate, but on the other side a dispersed opposition against security forces of the incumbent would create a situation whereby public order and human security is not less endangered than in any other. In contrary, a blurred conflict topography in the capital Kinshasa can foster a more protracted post-electoral depression. Combined with other spots prone to escalation, especially in Katanga and the two Kasai provinces, but maybe also North Kivu or Equateur, this scenario might drag the country in a longer and more serious political crisis, which adds to the yet ongoing humanitarian, social, and security crisis in many parts of the DRC.

Both the Congolese authorities, contending parties and all involved international actors should clearly evaluate those threats while envisaging their short-term strategies with regards to the still ongoing elections. Provisional results will be proclaimed on 6th of December, according to the CENI, but changes are – as usual in DRC – not unlikely, and popular dynamics in terms of ‘radio trottoir’ may anytime develop as every polling station is tacking its results publicly fro where they are compiled by the CENI. In thsi regard, it is crucial to prevent the obvious imponderabilities of the ongoing dynamics to turn into a very hot and explosive stew that will probably not be very digestible for the Congolese population.

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