This platform is an initiative of five Congolese civil society organisations: the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), Action for Transparent and Peaceful Elections (AETA), Filimbi, Congolais Débout, and Fight for Change (Lucha).

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Elections in the DRC: stakeholders and challenges

As an opening note to this blog, the coordination committee of the electionsrdcongo.com website has chosen to very briefly introduce the stakeholders in the electoral process as well as the challenges underlying the upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Who are the stakeholders and what are the challenges involved in the electoral process in the DRC? The political situation in the country appears to have accelerated since the appointment of Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Permanent Secretary to the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), the presidential party, as President Joseph Kabila’s successor.

On one hand, the Independent national electoral commission (Ceni) continues to comply more or less with the deadlines of the electoral schedule and the regime continues to affirm the irreversibility of the electoral process, going as far as to call president Kabila the “father of Congolese democracy”. Meanwhile, the Congolese opposition continues to uphold its narrative of unity and maintain, at all costs, its participation in the process.

On the other, it is clear that the repression continues, and is even increasing: the instrumentalization of the Ceni and the Constitutional Court is intensifying, the public media are still in the hands of the authorities, the obscurity of the electoral process and the exclusion of any national or international observers are worsening, and the recommendations of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) on the electoral register are not being implemented.

The objective big picture does not authorise us to talk about free, transparent and inclusive elections et all.”

For its part, the opposition appears to be increasingly lost, with no control over the process and, above all, unable to build a true common project and the unity necessary for a real alternative… In short, the objective big picture does not authorize us to talk about free, transparent and inclusive elections at all.

This begs the question of the stakeholders’ roles and the issues at stake in an electoral process that seems to have been decided in advance. Who are the major stakeholders and their allies? Knowing them better provides an idea of the real issues at stake in a process that is so crucial to the future of the DRC and the whole region. This is because what is at stake today is not only the future of a nation, but also the future and stability of an entire continent.

I. Stakeholders

The Congolese political class as a whole appears to have lost its sense of what a State is. It is feeding off its own interests. While in the regime’s camp, the instrumentalization and confiscation of state resources for the benefit of a single man have steadily increased, going as far as the creation of the Common Front for Congo (FCC), a political and partisan group, during a Council of Ministers meeting, the opposition seems unable to organise and to abandon the political practice of reducing everything to the interests of the “presidents” of the various political parties. This is tantamount to forgetting that the best interests of the nation must rise above their personal ambitions.

Congolese civil society, entangled in its contradictions, seems incapable of playing the role of the nation’s arbitrator and regulator that it is supposed to play. Poorly organized, fragmented and largely without any true independence, it has long since become an instrument in the hands of both sides, with but few exceptions.

Fortunately, and thanks notably to the struggle of citizen movements and the resistance of some organizations, we are witnessing the emergence of a real patriotic commitment to preserving democracy and respect for the law. The Catholic Church, after its traumatic experience of the negotiations at the Interdiocesan Centre, appears to have taken a step backwards and, despite its many calls for citizens to take responsibility for themselves, no longer seems to want to take to the streets alongside its flock, preferring to merely issue prophetic messages and undertake an international advocacy mission.

The exclusion, in the name of national sovereignty, of the international community (which itself seems incapable of enforcing Security Council resolutions, even though they are meant to be binding), now appears to be more like a means of barring the presence of neutral observers from witnessing the challenges of a process supposed to consolidate democratic gains.

II. Challenges

The stakes are numerous and multiple. We have selected five of them for a brief overview in this paper.

1. Alternation

We have heard this word a lot from our politicians over the past few months. Even the leaders of the ruling majority did not hesitate to affirm that with Ramazani Shadary as Kabila’s successor, alternation was guaranteed. This ignores the fact that in politics, alternation only involves a change of majority and politics. Today everyone affirms the need for change in this country; for a true alternation. However, the process as it is now being conducted, does not make change an obtainable goal at all.

Joseph Kabila controls the entire process through the instrumentalization of the Ceni and the Constitutional Court, with the goal of continuing to retain and exercise power beyond the end of his mandate, whether through a mock election or some other scenario. Furthermore, in a video that has become viral on the social networks, we hear majority leaders actually state that Ramazani Shadary is Kabila still in power and that nothing changes.

It is thus important that civil society and the entire Congolese population make certain that the conditions are met for free and transparent elections in order to achieve a genuine changeover at the highest level of the State.

2. An independent Ceni and Constitutional Court

During the CENCO negotiations, the need to reform and audit the Ceni was reaffirmed and, during the negotiations, the opposition made it a red line, without which no agreement would be possible. However, it is obvious that beyond its acceptance of the replacement of the MLC member, the government has blocked this clause of the agreement and today, with the exception of the Kabila camp, everyone agrees that the Ceni is not the impartial arbiter it is supposed to be, but, rather, the government’s instrument to organise elections for its benefit.

Proof of this lies in the refusal to reach a consensus with the opposition and civil society regarding the voting machine, the revision of the electoral register, the refusal to accept the group of international experts requested by the Security Council, etc.

The regime gives itself carte blanche because it gives itself all the rights.“

Since it was founded, the Constitutional Court has shown that it is neither independent nor interested in enforcing the law. In breach of its own rules of procedure, judgments are handed down without the required majority and the procedure for replacing 1/3 of its members has been violated by the regime to remove recalcitrant members.

Blatant proof of this coalition and instrumentalization was given to the whole world at Jean-Pierre Bemba’s invalidation hearing when we saw a member of the Court, a former adviser to the Head of State appointed when 1/3 of the members was replaced, join the Ceni Council and be consulted at any time on its defence strategy. This is simply unimaginable, and even unthinkable under other skies. But the regime gives itself carte blanche because it gives itself all the rights.

3. Freedom and equality among stakeholders

The electoral process must obey a minimum of rules so that candidates may compete on a balanced basis. The problem in the DRC is precisely the fact that, depending on the side you belong to, you are free or not to hold demonstrations or to appear in the public media or, even worse, to simply run for office.

Public demonstrations in favour of free elections are severely repressed or even simply banned. Opposition leaders and members of citizen movements are imprisoned. Some candidates have had their candidatures invalidated by the Ceni or the Constitutional Court, while others are being kept in forced exile.

In such circumstances, how can we talk about elections when almost the entire public and political space continues to be barred to opposition activities by the government? Unfortunately, with the appointment of Ramazani Shadary, all the regime’s narratives and behaviour are accepted in the name of a higher principle whereby Kabila is not a candidate, so we must proceed to the urns at any price. As if the elections meant Kabila’s departure rather that respect for the sovereign will of the people in accordance with the laws of the Republic.

Under such conditions, the platform’s member organisations believe that such elections are a harbinger of future chaos.

4. The voting machine

This is a major issue in these elections, because the opposition is currently claiming that without the withdrawal of this machine there will be no elections, whilst president Kabila has never stopped repeating that without a voting machine there will be no elections. Beyond this controversy, the voting machine or printing machine, according to the Ceni’s new terminology, is unanimously opposed because it is only supported by the regime and the Ceni. Civil society, citizens’ movements, the political opposition, the international community and technical experts are all unanimous in affirming that the country is not ready to use this tool, especially since it has been abandoned everywhere else and does not provide the necessary technical security guarantees. Furthermore, the absence of infrastructure in the country, combined with the novelty of such a tool for the population, constitutes a real handicap.

5. The electoral register

The OIF audit revealed real problems with the electoral register, the main one being the presence of several million voters without fingerprints plus the large number of blank voting cards in circulation.

Despite many requests from the opposition and civil society for the revision of the register and the deletion of these millions of voters without fingerprints, the Ceni remains deaf to these calls. The question we are asking is how, under such conditions, can we still talk about real elections?

We hope that the Ceni will come to its senses and implement the recommendations of the OIF audit for the consolidation of the electoral register, the first requisite for transparent elections.

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