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, August 3, 2011

The dangers of rushing to elections

There has been a flurry of editorial and press statements over the past few days about Congolese elections. In particular, pundits have been reporting on the election commissioner Mulunda Ngoy's meeting with the minister of interior last week, during which he handed over the annexes to the electoral law that have to be adopted by parliament in order for the electoral process to go ahead. If these annexes are  not adopted by August 10, he warned, they will be forced the uncouple the legislative and presidential elections.

What exactly is Mulunda on about? Well, the official voter registration is now over, which has resulted in a redistribution of seats by electoral district. Since there has been no census in the country since, I believe, 1984, the voter registration figures form the best idea we have of how many people live where and, therefore, how many MPs there should be per electoral district. (See here for the redistribution by province).

In order for the electoral process to stay on track, prospective MPs have to register by September 7. They cannot begin registering without knowing how many seats there are per district. Once they have registered, the election materials can be printed and distributed throughout the country. This is why several editorials in Le Potentiel and La Prospérité have urged MPs to pass this amendment quickly in the extraordinary session that will soon begin in Kinshasa. MONUSCO added their voice to this chorus yesterday with a press statement, also pressing for a quick adoption of a legal amendment.

There is, however, a danger. The voter registers have not been audited by an independent group of experts. According to civil society groups, the lists of registered voters have not even been posted on the outside walls of some of the registration centers, as is required by law. There have been many allegations of fraud, including the registration of foreigners, children and fictitious people. So wouldn't a rushed adoption of an amendment legitimize this potentially flawed voter's register? Is it really possible that, in this context of rapid urbanization, Kinshasa could lose 7 seats? And would a quick adoption of an amendment not make it difficult afterwards to revisit the problem of "cleaning" the voter register?

I have been hearing more and more voices calling for a postponing of elections. A group of Congolese civil society organizations - including ASADHO, LINELIT and CENADEP - published a memo a few days arguing that "it would unrealistic" to hold elections within the constitutional deadlines (i.e. declare results by December 6). Diplomats in Kinshasa are now beginning to say the same in private, although they would prefer if the CENI could reach an agreement with all  major parties on a deferral before they make any statement. According to some in the diplomatic community, we are now 8 weeks behind schedule in the electoral process.

Would it then not be better to postpone an amendment to the electoral law until CENI has commissioned an independent audit of the voters' register? Even the UDPS, I assume, with their reputation for legal punctiliousness, would prefer a delay to going to elections with a flawed list of voters. In this, for once, I agree with Azarias Ruberwa, the head of the RCD, who is the first (semi-)major political figure I have seen come out in favor of postponing elections.


Rich said...

I may be wrong but my understanding is that any delay will only affect the legislative elections and not the presidential this is because the annexes to the electoral law is there to deal with the electoral quota (64,049 registered voters per parliamentary seat) and there are 500 seats to fill.

It is true that voters register's data need to be cleaned, but I doubt there will be a significant discrepancy between current figures and the ones after audit. In such case, if postponing there is to be it will only affect parliamentary elections meaning the CENI will go ahead with the presidential elections as planned and then postpone the legislative until the annexes to the electoral law is passed.

Knowing the Congolese political class, splitting the two elections (presidential and legislative) will be a source for opportunistic alliances. I say this because once the president is elected and known, almost all political parties will tend to join his political platform in order to secure their chances to any advantage such alliance can bring. In the same way the elected president will be more than keen to ally with everyone in order to secure a majority in the parliament hence have an easy ride when governing.

In my opinion, MPs should break from their holidays and come back to Lingwala, Palais du people in order to get this job done and try their best to meet constitutional deadlines. Yes there will always be tough challenges in this process but, I'd rather see Congolese MPs busy working on important bills than being on sabbatical.

Rich said...

An extraordinary session has been called for Satuday 6th Aug 2011. Remember MPs have until Wednesday 10th Aug 2011 to pass the annexes to the electoral law. Will this be a straight forward process or a slow and complexe one??? We sahll wait and see...

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful, Rich.

Is it not also true that if the presidential and legislative elections are split-and Kabila wins via fraud- that this could serve to unite the opposition so as to clip his power and a result increase their own?


Rich said...

Hi Bryce,

True, things can go either way if the two elections are split. The sad fact is that such split will play more to discredit the electoral process than to anything. I compare this to watching a movie for the first time but you've already read the script...

I think true power lies with the executive and due to the fact that most Congolese opponents are what some Congolese call, "disguised job seekers" I am sure more alliances will be to the elected president than to close ranks within the opposition and, to use your term, clip his power. One example of that is the way the opposition is not only unable to unite now in order to give itself a better chance to defeat J Kabila; but, it is also diversifying and increasing gaps from within.

Remeber in 2006 J Kabila won with 9,5 million votes. There were two candidates! If he loses the support of say, 1/4 or even 1/3 from people who voted for him in 2006 he can still manage something around 7.5 million votes. he can still win if we end up with something like 80% turn out rate.

My take home message is, just as bad as things are in the D R C, so is the opposition since this is part of the Congolese structure. For things to change, there is a need for the old political class to be progressively rinced by a new, younger and open minded generation of politician that will be increasingly willing to play an almost 'fair game'. There is still too much 'neopaternalistic' attitudes within the Congolese political class which is not allowing renovating ideas to shine.

I may be wrong but consolidating the legitimacy of the institutional matrix is one way of gaining normality in D R Congolese political life. Regular elections (though not as perfect as it should) at any level, national, subnational and within political organisations is however one genuine way of ensuring that.

Anonymous said...

This was so helpful, Rich!

In the thread above, us American activists are taking a beating but as one I can say I have always appreciated your lay of things in the Congo.

It helps me with my organizing of Americans because it is so objective.


Rich said...

Thanks Bryce,

The annexes to the electoral law have been adopted by the parliament on Tuesday 9/8/2011 by 375 votes YES out of a total of 386, 6 votes against and 5 absteined.

The law has been sent to senate and the debate is schedule for today Wednesday 10/10/2011 which is also the deadline for it to be presented to the president J Kabila so that it can be published and allow the CENI to hold the two elections on the same day.

It looks like they will meet the deadline. MLC representatives are the ones trying to slow down its adoption since any delay in the elections will play in their favour as they await a virtual release of their leader Bemba who is still counting tiles in Scheveningen's cells at the Hague.

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