by The International Crisis Group
(May 5, 2011) -- After four years of electoral inertia and in a stalled democratic process, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is preparing its second set of democratic elections in a hurry and on a rolling calendar. Opposition parties are trying to unite, thus far without success, and the international community is not in charge, as in effect it was the first time, in 2006.
The Congolese authorities face a dilemma: respect the constitutional deadline and organise botched elections, or ignore that deadline and slide into a situation of unconstitutional power. In both cases, the government’s legitimacy would be seriously questioned.
The only way out of this Catch-22 situation is to both speed up preparations and negotiate a contingency electoral calendar and political agreement to manage an almost certainly necessary transition period. More attention must also be paid to putting in place essential measures for transparency and inclusiveness, as well as a security system that will ultimately require important UN help. If these steps are not taken, foreign partners should disengage lest they lend undeserved credibility to a fundamentally flawed process.
Instead of signalling consolidation of democracy, the coming elections present at best a logistical problem and at worst a new cause of destabilisation for a country that has still not recovered from the long wars that marked the end of the Mobutu era and its denouement.
President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party has already launched its campaign, even before the official start of the electoral season, while the opposition is trying to find its “champion” for the presidential contest. More than logistical difficulties give reason for concern.
At the start of the year, a constitutional review removed the presidential election’s run-off round, making it a single winner-takes-all round to the incumbent’s benefit, other electoral law changes favouring the ruling party may happen soon, as the draft bill is still being discussed. Within what is a general climate of insecurity, intimidation of Kabila’s opponents has already become apparent. Despite last-minute integration of some armed groups into the Congolese army, insecurity is still rife in the Kivus, while unexplained security incidents, including an attempted coup, have occurred in the west.
Technical preparations are lagging. Neither the new electoral law, the voters list, nor the budget are ready. Set up a year late, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) is in a race against time. Registration is already controversial, funding of the electoral cycle is incomplete, and the electoral calendar published on 30 March, though it partially respects constitutional deadlines, is problematic.
The international community’s role is far more limited than in 2006, when it organised, financed and secured all aspects of the elections. However, it still provides 40 per cent of the funding, gives technical assistance and maintains about 17,000 UN troops in country. Given the risks of electoral illegitimacy, bias and violence, it should not stay in the background but instead make clear to the Congolese politicians that a postponed election would be better than a botched one.
The international community, including through the UN Security Council and an inclusive donors forum, should make clear the need for the Congolese authorities to include essential measures in the electoral system and apply the same standards as in 2006. In this respect, stepped-up political engagement is required, and new Special Envoys for the U.S., France and EU should be appointed; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (SRSG) has an equally significant role to play.
In order not to become trapped in a biased process that could all too easily become as violent as that which Côte d’Ivoire recently experienced, technical and financial assistance should be contingent on constant and precise monitoring of the freedom to campaign, respect for political pluralism, political violence, access to state media, dialogue with the Congolese authorities and state funding for the NIEC, as well as the opportunity for civil society groups to do their own monitoring of the process.
Congolese politicians and the international community should anticipate now the very real possibility that the 5 December constitutional deadline cannot be met. Negotiating a transition agreement with the opposition, setting a new deadline for organising the elections and limiting the business of government to routine matters during the transition would not yet guarantee a free and fair election, but it would avoid having a likely unconstitutional postponement of the elections become a crisis of legitimacy.
- The International Crisis Group is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. Recommendations by ICG on the above topic can be found here.