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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Senate passes the constitutional revision

Another step has been taken to make serious changes to the Congolese constitution: Today, the senate passed the 8 revisions with 71 votes out of 108. Kabila's AMP coalition accounts for roughly 58 senators (give or take a few), and they often get another dozen votes from independent senators. Nonetheless, I didn't expect this to go through so quickly - for a body that takes months to debate insignificant laws, passing a major overhaul of the country's founding document in a few days is disheartening.

They are now saying that the senate and national assembly will be convened tomorrow to vote on the revision together - they have to pass the proposed amendments with 60% of both chambers together, which seems all but certain.

It's important to highlight that this will not just change the electoral system - from a to round run-off system to a one round, plurality-win election - but also gives the president the ability to dissolve provincial assemblies, remove governors and call referenda. The minister of justice will also have official control over the prosecutor's office. In short, the presidency is made more powerful. One can imagine the provincial MPs will be more reluctant to press for decentralization of revenue, as required by the constitution, if the president can kick them out and call a new provincial election. The prosecutors - who are already not known for aggressive steps against abusive officials - will be even more reluctant to press charges against them now.

Such provisions do exist in other constitutions, but in the context of the Congo they will lead to a dangerous centralization of power in the presidency, which has shown little interest thus far in combating impunity and securing its citizens' rights.


Anonymous said...

This is indeed quite tragic.

A question of interpretation, Jason:
In the Constitution, I see it says 100,000 Congolese can submit a petition for referendum- assuming it doesn't change the basic "republican form of government".

What I am not certain of is what happens next (my French isn't the best).

Is this petition than subject to a majority vote in the Assembly and then we are off to a referendum?

Or does the petition then need to be considered to be germane and, if the Assembly so chooses, tossed out?

Could you elaborate what the steps are for the Congolese people themselves can take via the petition process to change the Constitution?

I am simply curious and not particularly sure of my given my reading of the Constitution.
Thank you

Jason Stearns said...

There are several way to change the constitution - the initiative can come from the president, the prime minister/council of ministers, 50% of either chamber of parliament or a popular petition of 100,000 people.

The initiative is then approved by 50% of each chamber (which has happened) and the by both 60% of both chambers sitting together (which should happen tomorrow).

Rich said...

- Jason, Just to add that during the debate on the senate floor, most opposition senators agreed in principle with the bill but, they said this should seek as much consensus as possible before being pushed through the two chambers by the majority.

In support of this, nearly all senators are also of the opinion that the drafting of the constitution of 18th February 2006 was made in particular circumstances of a consensual transition that failed to account for some harsh realities to come.

I may be wrong but I think the opposition has not put a strong enough case to support its position. No one in this politic world would have a majority in both houses and somehow dither to use it. This kind of reminds me of the Democrats with the Healthcare bill. Some accused Obama of having a majority and failing to use it, some others accused him of imposing a big government on people (death panel, Obama care etc.).

Politic is a game and the Congolese opposition must be encouraged to learn how to play it. I am not a J Kabila fan but, in this particular case, I’m struggling to see where he has violated any law.

Anonymous said...

Entirely agree, Rich. The opposition really just don't know how to play this game well. Realize they are divided but they really must learn how to use all parliamentary procedure to slow down, stop, water down, etc- like Republicans did- things in the Assembly.

Perhaps this will help unite them so this could be a silver lining.

Overall, however, the idea that only 60% of the Assembly can approve an amendment to the Fundamental Law is outrageous. That is recipe for a disaster. Threshold should be far higher.

Moving forward, it is probably best all the opposition get together and pick a consensus candidate. Pick A candidate to face Kabila. This is only way to both stop him (assuming he doesn't steal the election, which he very well might given this recent act) AND strengthen their numbers in the Assembly.

OR, opposition tries to take Assembly and just let's Kabila win again. This would be preferable for if they take the Assembly they have more leverage over Kabila or someone else just as corrupt and incompetent.

Then ofcourse, folks in the America/West need to bear maximum pressure on Obama to engage in Congo like they engaged in Sudan. Rallies in DC everyday. Pressure must come from grassroots in America. Congress and President in hands of corporations. But enough pressure and Obama will act. And, with Congo, he needs to act and NOW.

Need to organize grassroots in Congo too.

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