DRC's Opposition Boycotts Senate, Dismisses Kabila's Ploy to Stay in Power
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The Senate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is set to hold an extraordinary session Tuesday to debate how to organise the country’s first-ever local elections. But a united opposition is boycotting the session, arguing that the draft legislation is part of President Joseph Kabila’s strategy to hang on to power when his second term expires next year.
“This law must be promulgated for the elections to be effectively coupled,” PPRD spokesperson Ramazani Shadari told RFI in an interview. “That is why we want the law to be adopted.”
Concretely, the ruling PPRD wants voters to designate local officials before any other polls are held – a deeply divisive issue because the opposition believes voters should first choose a new president when Kabila’s second five-year term expires in 2016.
From the government’s perspective, a bill on seat allocation in local, communal and municipal constituencies must be enacted before local polls, scheduled for October, are held.
There are fears that local polls, a time-consuming and costly process in a country where none have never been held, will delay the presidential polls, allowing Kabila to stay in office.
The contentious bill has already been the subject of legislative jostling. Last month the National Assembly voted it down before giving it the green light. Earlier this month the Senate rejected it in an extraordinary session and Tuesday’s second extraordinary session -- whose legitimacy is challenged by the opposition -- is a sign of the government’s determination to hold local elections first.
There are fears that the parliamentary debate could have an impact on all polls.
“If this keeps going on all the elections are going to have to be postponed,” explained Michael Tshibangu, president of the London-based Alliance for Development and Democracy in Congo.
The legislation, already months behind schedule, should have been voted into law by April under an Independent National Electoral Commission calendar.
Delays and foot-dragging could lead to a constitutional crisis, according to lawmaker Aimé Boji, a member of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), a leading opposition party.
“Our constitution is very clear on the presidential term,” he said in a phone interview from Kinshasa. “It is the only election for which an actual date is set by the constitution.”
The opposition is convinced that this focus on local politics is a ploy by Kabila, in power since 2001, to extend his rule.
Kabila who rarely speaks in public has so far rejected opposition demands to state that he will step down when his term ends next year.
His alleged playing-for-time strategy, called glissement (sliding or slipping), also rests on the tying up of the electoral process in bureaucratic delays.
“Glissement is simply what many Congolese politicians do best, which is: delay decisions,” remarked Jason Stearns, director of New York University’s Congo Research Group.
The ruling party’s bid – unpopular in many circles -- had led the parliamentary opposition to unite under an umbrella group known as Dynamique pour l’unité d’actions de l’opposition, or dynamic for unified action by the opposition.
“The opposition has come together against the machinations of the current regime,” noted Kambale Musavuli, spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, a Chicago-based advocacy group. “Having them take a bold stand gives more hope to the people on the ground.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mendé has rejected charges that the government is promoting glissement, which he has dismissed as an “unfair accusation” (procès d’intention).
“We believe that the [electoral] commission has drawn up a calendar that will be respected,” he told the press last week.
There had earlier been speculation that Kabila – like other sitting presidents in Africa -- would change the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term.
But the idea generated strong opposition at home and abroad.
“Those test balloons were met with so much resistance from local civil society, the Catholic Church and the international community that he retreated,” analyst Stearns said in an interview from New York. “Now other options are being put on the table.”
A more significant, behind-the-scene succession battle may be taking place within the ruling coalition.
Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011