With or without elections, the electoral period has begun in Congo

The political earthquake that is the (self-)exclusion of the so-called G7 (a group of political heavyweights around Olivier Kamitatu, Pierre Lumbi, Kyungu wa Kumwanza, Charles Mwando Simba and other former government allies) marks the definite begin of an electoral period no one knows whether it actually will end with elections or not.

After weeks of uncertainty, the group of frondeurs came out with a public declaration pushing President Kabila towards a clearer stance as to constitutional term limits barring him for running for a third mandate at the helm of the DRC government and state. It was published the very day opposition parties around Vital Kamerhe and Martin Fayulu organised the first major rally in Kinshasa since January 2015, when violent clashes emerged from large-scale demonstrations in the capital and elsewhere.

The government’s reaction did not wait. In a communiqué signed by Information minister Lambert Mende, the G7 was accused to have excluded itself from the presidential majority and the government alike. Briefly afterwards, presidential decrees formalised the sacking of Kabila’s security advisor Pierre Lumbi (MSR) and Planning minister Olivier Kamitatu (ARC). Other G7 politicians have not yet been affected to date, though the coalition of frondeurs also includes Kyungu’s UNADEF and Mwando’s UNADEP. Overall, Kabila’s MP maintains a majority of – depending on how you count 270-300 seats in parliament, but the G7 leaving casts a significant blow on the government’s range of manoeuvre.

Though not unexpected given earlier declarations, the G7 move comes at a crucial moment, following a constitutional court ruling over the yet troubled electoral calendar and within a period of agony at the independent national electoral commission (CENI). With local elections original scheduled for October – and marking the onset of DRC’s to date largest and heaviest electoral schedule – both government and opposition insiders have left no doubt that CENI’s plan has become more and more untenable by now.

Although the situation is tremendously complex, the major currents are important to keep in mind for the coming months.

First, the political gamble around whether or not (and if yes, how) Kabila intends to be president beyond 2016. The G7 departure increases pressure on a yet troubled majority and it is yet to be seen how the ranks will be closed in a first time. Firing Lumbi and Kamitatu indicates, if no further decrees will follow these days, that Kinshasa is wary of the implosion risks that could come along if the former Katanga province is ‘lost’. Mwando Simba and Kyungu wa Kumwanza are key political leaders in Kabila’s home province and the rumours over a potential bid of Moise Katumbi indicate how sensitive political power struggles in Katanga are with regards to preserving a viable majority. In addition, the dialogue supposed to seek accords over how majority and opposition can move together towards elections appears to be stalled after a last major opposition player, Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDPS left the negotiation table a week ago.

Second, the technical side – often overlooked in current media reports and analyses (check Jean Kenge’s work with the Congo Research Group for more details on that) – is deeply intertwined with the political side. As to date, there is no indication that CENI is coming up with a revised and accurate voter registry that will allow for representative polls, excluding the nonexistent voters and including the whole cohort of young Congolese between 17 and 27 years of age. Then, provincial decoupage adds further obstacles and the demarcation of circumscriptions for local elections has already tightened political competition at the local level, possibly exacerbating customary, political, and armed conflict in many parts of the country. Both a census or at least a revision of voter lists and the rearrangement of DRC’s subnational administrative setup are projects prescribed by the 2006 constitution and valid electoral legislation. But, depending on perspective, they may serve as political strategies to postpone elections ad infinitum. Rumour has it, that CENI currently elaborates a plan B that features a 2-3 year transition period.

Coupling the political and the technical side of the story, DRC seems to be set straight for an electoral deadlock at different fronts. With little things being clear at this point (and changing almost every day), one of the few certainties right now is that CENi’s original calendar is already untenable. While elections will probably happen sooner or later in 2016, it is hard to estimate how many and which of the scheduled polls will take place, and in which running order. Both within the majority and opposition currents, insiders have been suggesting disagreement on whether local polls should precede or succeed national ones. In between, provincial elections (assemblies and governors) are in limbo – as far as that the constitutional suggested to have interim gubernatorial elections followed by regular ones, as the CENI had planned. Adding more spice to the conundrum, discussion have additionally emerged over the modus operandi of national polls, some majority members having suggested indirect presidential elections.

A lot to chew, and the ongoing political ramblings have not made things easier. Three key elements will be at the heart of the coming weeks: Does the G7 move trigger a reorganisation of a broad opposition? How will the majority rebuild, and reshape? Can CENI come up with a modified calendar that addresses a) decoupage, b) voter lists, and c) the contestations around local polls? Never a dull moment in Congo.


One Response to “With or without elections, the electoral period has begun in Congo”
  1. Richard Zink says:

    Danke. Viele offene Fragen….

    Von meinem iPad gesendet


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