The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) presidential election is over a year away, but political tensions are escalating in the vast and volatile country as candidates line up and fears grow the vote will be fraudulent.
The fears have been fed further by recent announcement that immediate former President Joseph Kabila is planning a comeback. Kabila and his successor Felix Tshisekedi have had a rocky relationship since 2018. Early this year, there were rumours of attempted assassination of Kabila by authorities in Kinshasa and a few weeks later there were fears of ouster of Tshisekedi by army officers loyal to Kabila.
Elections in the central African nation that recently joined the East African Community economic bloc frequently turn violent, with dozens of protesters killed. The elections are also often criticised by international observers.
But the last presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2018, heralded the first peaceful transfer of power in Kinshasa since independence from Belgium in 1960. The vote was nonetheless marred by accusations of irregularities and the European Union and others cast doubt over its credibility.
Rights activists say there is no space for a democratic process as killings, torture and arrests remain a constant threat for critics. According to official results, incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi won, replacing former leader Joseph Kabila after 18 years in power.
Tshisekedi has declared he will stand for president again in a poll planned for late 2023. However, fears of tampering are already stalking the electoral process, and pressures around political circles in the capital have begun to mount.
Tshisekedi’s ruling coalition in the national assembly recently rejected an amendment to electoral law that would have banned politicians from distributing money during campaigns, for example. It also struck down an effort to force the publication of votes by polling station. At present, DRC’s electoral commission publishes a single tally of results.
“With these rejections, the electoral law enshrines tampering and fraud,” said opposition MP Claudel Lubaya.
Martin Fayulu, a politician who claims he was robbed of victory in the 2018 election, argues that if Tshisekedi wins the 2023 poll “the country will be at war”. Fayulu, along with former President Kabila, who retains swathes of popular support, have both announced that they will contest the coming election.
On May 10, the president of the constitutional court Dieudonne Kaluba was removed from his position after a process of drawing lots for the role. The unusual method for picking the role had never before been used in the country, and it raised suspicion the government was trying to control the court, which has the final say over disputed elections.
In November, the court under Kaluba had dropped a corruption inquiry into former prime minister Augustin Matata – who is also running for president next year. There are whispers of interference at the electoral commission too.
Prominent Catholic and Protestant groups in DRC recently criticised Tshisekedi for allegedly placing a close friend in charge of the commission, for example.
Tresor Kibangula, an analyst at New York University’s Congo Research Group think-tank, said recent developments do not bode well for the future.
“The process does not enjoy the confidence of many people,” he said, referring to the run-up to the 2023 poll. There are also doubts about whether the election will take place next year.
The electoral commission, for example, has complained of receiving “homeopathic doses” – or insufficient funds – to organise the vote. The DRC is notoriously corrupt. It ranked 169th out of 180 nations on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index.
And far away from Kinshasa, much of the east of the nation of 90 million people is also prey to myriad armed groups and civilian massacres are a regular occurrence.
- An AFP / Tell report