Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Despite assurances, election date in doubt

Over the past weeks, Congolese officials have repeatedly insisted that they would be able to hold elections on November 28, as planned. Most recently, President Kabila himself, in a rare press conference yesterday in his office, explicitly confirmed the date.

Nonetheless, behind the scenes diplomats are expressing serious doubts, which two reports released this past week reinforce. (Also see this Reuters report)

The Congolese umbrella group Agir pour des élections libres et transparentes (AETA) concluded in a recent report that "we are worried by disturbing signs regarding the capacity of the electoral commission to master the logistical, technical, political and security challenges in order to be able to respect the election date of 28 November 2011." The Atlanta-based Carter Center released a similar conclusion two days ago, saying that "scheduling and logistical tasks pose a serious threat to the election date."

There are various reasons for the delay. The voter registration process took two months longer than expected, ending on July 15. There was then a delay in the ordering and printing of ballots, in part due to the suppliers in China and Germany; in part due to the huge number of candidates (18,386 for the legislative elections). While the electoral kits are being deployed throughout the country at the moment, the 120,000 ballot boxes still have not been delivered from China, and the ballots are only now being printed in South Africa.

According to diplomats, UN logistical officers have been saying for weeks that it will be almost impossible to deploy all the materials in time (other UN officials, however, insist that there is still enough time), while new litmuses keep on being set; the last one suggested that if the ballot boxes had not arrived by the beginning of this week, there should be a delay in the elections.

These delays are pushing the electoral calendar into dangerous territory. According to the electoral law, the voter roll has to be published one month ahead of the election campaign, i.e. by September 28. This has only happened over the past few days on the electoral commission's new website. But a much more dangerous line will be crossed if elections themselves cannot be held by November 28, as the opposition is already saying it will not recognize the president anymore after December 6, when his constitutional term runs out.

Both reports press the electoral commission to begin thinking about a Plan B - what should be done if the current schedule cannot be met. The AETA report already calls for a national debate on possible delays. Several months ago already, the International Crisis Group already called for the main political parties to agree on a transitional period that would allow for a delay, a call echoed by one of the main Congolese human rights groups, ASADHO. At least one presidential candidate agrees, Oscar Kashala, as does the leader of the RCD, Azarias Ruberwa.

Nonetheless, President Kabila and the election commission Mulunda Ngoy still insist on November 28. For the moment, no diplomat seems to disagree with them, at least not in public.


Anand said...

All the business about late ballot box delivery, etc., sounds a little odd at first glance. Could there be any possibility that the election commission and/ or incumbent party want to intentionally delay the election date for some reason? Also, is there any indication as to who is taking a hardline stance about Dec 6th (i.e. Tshisekedi, etc...) The potential backlash of not holding the elections on time seems alarming to say the least.

Anonymous said...

It seems the opposition parties have finally gotten their way with the announcement by Pastor Ngoy Mulunda that CENI will not compile the election results using the central server.

The summation of all results will be done manually and according to me gives alot of room for either party to claim the elections were rigged.


Rich said...

It would have been great if the opposition started to get its acts together and seriously prepare for the up coming election rather than wasting its energy on irrelevant polemics. I say this because below is a video showing when it was put to tshisekedi that his party failed, for weeks if not months, to even send an observer to a voters registration center located only a few miles (15 to 20 minutes walk) from udps' national Head Quarter. They had almost 5 years to prepare, at this stage, they should have already been on the ball and watch how CENI is struggling to meet the deadlines but they seem even not ready than the CENI...

I think the opposition must be encouraged to prepare seriously. When people are on the ground trying to tie loose ends deep inside the DRC, we can see opposition leaders touring Europe and the America. Carson is in Kinshasa but some opposition leaders are away in Europe etc... at this rate, I am sure if the results do not go their way, they will only have themselves to blame.

Here is the link:


Rich said...

The Congolese opposition seems to be barking up the wrong tree. Here is Johnnie Carson's assessment after his recent (18 to 20 October 2011) visit in DRC.


Anand said...

@Rich - What exactly are you referring to in your last post about the opposition barking up the wrong tree. The press release by Carson just seems to be some typical government offical "I trust everything will go well..." jargon. Are you referring to something specific? Thanks!

Rich said...

@ Anand, my last post is pretty much in line with the first one. Besides what Carson said, many other experts are saying the circus on the server + voter rolls is rather a logistical problem that can be overcome through manual counting by trained observers.

My point is that the opposition seems not ready or even unable to efficiently deploy trained witnesses. They should have affected some of the energy they wasted in street demonstrations to have access to the server into training witnesses and planning their deployment.

How can one justify the fact that, for instance, udps (said to be the biggest opposition party) did not even have or send an observer at a voter registration center located only a few minutes walk from its national Head Quarter? (see video in my first post)


Anand said...

@Rich - Gotcha. Wasted efforts and lack of meaningful strategic focus. Combined with possible infighting, this is disappointing. Even if the argument of the need to gain access to the server is sound, one could argue that the opposition should have known they might not gain access and should have been planning and posting observers all along as well. After all, seeking high elected office requires multitasking to get the job done. Right now the biggest service to the people is creating a collective environment of transparency and free and clear elections. I would hate to think that the 2011 round would be a step back from 2006.

Anonymous said...

Both sides play on the date, not on the process... where the hell is the debate on the the issues that matter the future of this land?

Annika said...

Another good perspective -

Anonymous said...

Manual counting and relaying of election results leaves alot of room for rigging and discrepancies. The opposition parties will only have themselves to blame if any of the said problems occur.

They MUST have observers at nearly all the 60 000 polling stations and IT savvy individuals manning the server for the electronic vote count for the results.


Anonymous said...


I believe quite a few folks have been saying in other comment threads that the understandable obsession with the rolls and server were a distraction. Yet, for some reason, it continued to dominate the debate by one Party- UDPS.

The opposition really does need to get on the ball on the observers/witnesses and very soon. Indeed, being able to recruit and train (certify?) them all over the country would do good to ensuring these parties move beyond their ethnic/regional bases- which would be good for Congolese democracy generally.

That said, it is probably best to move to a delay and a Plan B. The consequences of a bad election are simply far more terrifying than a delay. I completely realize that this would require some measure of cooperation from the Congolese political class- always a exercise in hope- but it would secure peace.

I am not Congolese so I don't know what this would look like. But, at the very least, it would require temporarily giving authority to some transitional body- to sign the checks, implement laws, etc- for a set period to simply "run" the country until elections are held and a swearing in of the new government should be had. There would perhaps need to be a basic "transitional" Constitution that lays out the power of this body and I would like to see the Archbishop of Kinshasa lead some transitional council. The council could have just 50 members who are nominated by the the major party coalitions in the majority and the opposition with perhaps committees for the key functions of state with perhaps 10 of those members being delegates of key civil society organizations. All decisions would require a 2/3rds vote or something or some other super majority threshold to ensure cooperation.

Now, ofcourse, something like this could lead to a "Benin" situation where the transitional body claims authority and takes power. But to avoid something like this the "transitional constitution" should be clearly bounded by a date and the armed forces representatives to the body should sign it as well.

Some kind of structure like this would be fair to all parties in my view though I realize it would require negotiations with folks who mostly hate each other. Indeed, it could even be constitutional if the National Assembly resumes, holds public debates, and passes a "transitional amendment" that can be used for emergencies such as this down the road. I could even see the language for such an amendment:

"In the event of a national emergency (see definitions in appendix) whereby the central government in unable to constitutionally perform its duties, by a vote of 3/4th of the National Assembly, and the signatures of the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of the Assembly, General Staff of the Armed Services, and Archbishop of Kinshasa, the government is to be dissolved and all powers of the State transferred to a Transitional National Council. The following amendments lay out the powers,duties, processes, officers, and duration of said Council..."

Rich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

@ Anon OCTOBER 22, 2011 8:34 AM

Not too sure if I get your point fully! Anyway, I guess a plan B will always be a viable option. However, I doubt Congolese will welcome any kind of confabulation that would lead to a transition government... This is because the country plunged deep into the mess it is trying to get out of at the moment through consecutive transition plans started early 1990s to finish in 2005 with a constitutional referendum then the 2006 elections.

At worse, I could imagine or tolerate decoupling the presidential from the parliamentary elections; but, delaying the whole thing will be, in my opinion, a real set back to the momentum taken in trying to have a culture of regular elections within constitutional deadlines hence avoiding institutional and legitimacy crises.

Re: "transitional amendment" I'm not a constitutional expert but I think the current DRC constitution has it covered under Article 70.

Article 70

Le Président de la République est élu au suffrage universel direct pour un mandat de cinq ans renouvelable une seule fois.
A la fin de son mandat, le Président de la République reste en fonction jusqu’à l’installation effective du nouveau Président élu.


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