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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Is the Congolese electoral calendar a pipe dream?

Two weeks ago, the national elections commission published its election calendar. This is the outline:
  • 25 October 2015: Provincial, municipal, urban, and local elections;
  • 10 December 2015: Results of those elections announced;
  • 17 January 2016: Election of senators by provincial assemblies;
  • 31 January 2016: Election of governors and vice-governors by provincial assemblies;
  • 27 November 2016: Presidential and national parliamentary elections;
  • 7 December 2016: Provisional presidential results announced;
  • Total cost: $1,145 billion.
Most observers I have spoken to feel that the electoral calendar is a pipe dream––it will be virtually impossible to hold local elections, the most complicated polls the country has ever seen, by October. This means that the entire electoral calendar will be pushed back, prolonging Kabila's mandate in violation of the constitution. 

Today, I published an interview with Jerome Bonso, a leading civil society advocate and expert on elections. He summarizes why the calendar will be almost impossible to adhere to:

1. No money. The entire Congolese budget amounts to $9 billion on paper. However, in reality the execution of the budget has been weak in recent years––last year, according to the budget ministry, only half of the budget was spent. If we consider that roughly 40 per cent of the budget comes from foreign donors, this leaves the government with very few means to finance such a large electoral budget. For now, donors are still undecided whether they should back such an unrealistic timetable.

2. An absence of laws. A number of critical laws and statutes still have to be passed, in particular the statute listing the new electoral districts. The problem is that this law requires demographic information that is not available––hence the planned controversial census.

3. No reliable voter register. The list of registered voters is widely seen as outdated and full of mistakes––fake voters, dead voters, and doubly-registered voters. In addition, it does not include the young Congolese who have come of age since the last electoral cycle. It is not clear how the election commission intends to deal with this problem, as the "cleansing" of the voter register appears to be insufficient.

4. An extremely complex process. Local elections will be more complicated than any other election held in the Congo to date. We don't know how many electoral districts there will be yet, but the election commissioner said it could be as high as 7,275. That compares with 266 electoral districts for the provincial elections, which were last held in 2006.

5. A lack of dispute resolution bodies. For the local elections, the "Tribunal de Paix" is supposed to adjudicate any disputes. However, there are only 50 such courts functioning across the country, leaving vast areas of the country with no dispute resolution body.

And these are just the technical challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge is forging some sort of consensus within an extremely divided political class. In the last month, the government has cracked down on protests, locked up opposition and civil society activists, and suspended cell phone and internet communication. It has also refused to make the electoral process subject of discussion with the opposition outside of parliament, which the ruling coalition dominates. The United Nations peacekeeping mission, which has been tasked by the UN Security Council with brokering talks between the various sides, has been told by President Kabila not to interfere in what he considers to be sovereign affairs.

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