Christophe Ena/Pool via REUTERS

Can presidentialism save Tshisekedi from the ‘lame duck’ syndrome?

By giving loyalists and technocrats ministerial posts, Tshisekedi hopes to insulate them from politics and ensure a fluid government.

Five months after his re-election to a second term, President Félix Tshisekedi has finally unveiled the composition of his government. The highly anticipated announcement includes Judith Suminwa as Prime Minister, along with 54 ministers. This is the first time that a woman will head the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

After Tshisekedi’s coalition won the December 2023 legislative elections, delays in forming a government echoed the numerous negotiations on the appointment of members of the Bureau of the National Assembly. Amid increasing tensions in the Great Lakes region, what trends can be deduced from this new government? In particular, what skills are Tshisekedi seeking to meet the country's multiple challenges?

In general, his second term marks a new attempt to instil a presidential dynamic in which the presidency and the executive branch of government dominate political life. However, the DRC’s constitution provides for a semi-presidential system that combines presidential powers with tight Parliamentary checks. How suitable, then, is an assertive presidency in a fragmented political context, with the persistence of armed groups in the east of the country?

The new government comprises 55% neophytes, including in key posts such as defence and foreign affairs

The absence of political heavyweights is notable, with the exception of Jean-Pierre Bemba, who is Deputy Prime Minister in charge of transport. The government Suminwa heads comprises 55% neophytes, including in key posts such as the interior, defence and foreign affairs. Hailing from the president’s party – the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) – some of these appointees are occupying ministerial posts for the first time.

In so doing, Tshisekedi has broken with the usual practice of allocating ministerial posts since the end of the Second Congo War in 2003. The traditional approach aims to seek a compromise between the components of the coalition that contribute to the president’s election. The compromise was enshrined in the DRC’s 2006 constitution and reinforced by the unusual alliance between the UDPS and Joseph Kabila loyalists following Tshisekedi’s 2018 election.

The apparent break with this logic is illustrated by the absence of leaders of the main coalition parties that brought Tshisekedi to power in the 2023 election. Also known as ‘moral authorities’, these figures include Vital Kamerhe, newly elected Speaker of Parliament; Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, former senate president; and Sama Lukonde, former prime minister, whose coalition came third in the legislative elections.

Although the heavyweights are absent from government, most have been elected to Parliament

Although the new prime minister wanted to avoid a government with multiple centres of power, there may be other reasons for this change. This is Tshisekedi’s last term in office, which means the next five years will be characterised by a hidden electoral campaign among those seeking to succeed him. Had Tshisekedi given those political heavyweights an opportunity to shine in government, he could easily have been turned into a lame-duck president during his second term.

His decision to appoint UDPS loyalists and technocrats aims to ensure a more fluid government operation by insulating the ministers from political dynamics. He is reinforcing the same logic that was present in the previous government led by former prime minister Sama Lukonde – a technocrat with no political base.

But although the heavyweights are absent from government, most have been elected to Parliament. This will likely strengthen the National Assembly and Senate’s control over the Executive. Kamerhe – the new Speaker of Parliament – isn’t the only political actor with presidential ambitions. However, there is a risk of parliamentary control being abused for political ends at a time when numerous leading figures are already positioning themselves for 2028.

By appointing a government that reflects his party, Tshisekedi is breaking with DRC’s post-conflict consensus

The main challenge for all players will be the confrontation between Tshisekedi’s presidentialist leanings and the largely semi-presidential nature of the Congolese constitution, which on paper, gives Parliament a predominant role. This is a key difference between the DRC and its Central African neighbours, whose constitutions establish the predominance of the president.

Would presidentialist rule be appropriate for the DRC? Some point out that Mobutu Sese Seko’s presidential regime helped stabilise the country to an extent, in contrast to the disorder inherent in the two-party system of the DRC’s first constitution in 1963. Others believe geographic, linguistic and economic diversity, along with the country’s vast territory, aren’t suited to a concentration of power in a single party or region. For example, the elected representatives of Maniema Province object to their absence from the new government team.

By appointing a government that reflects his party, Tshisekedi appears to be breaking with the post-conflict consensus that has prevailed in the DRC until now. This stance may seem logical given the war raging in the east, which requires strong leadership, especially from the head of state or the government.

Tshisekedi’s move could see the DRC moving towards a majority-based system similar to Rwanda under its 2003 constitution or Burundi under its 2017 constitution. However, unlike the DRC, the shift towards a presidentialist system in neighbouring countries occurred because the ruling parties controlled the political and security sectors. In contrast, Tshisekedi’s administration continues to confront violence by armed groups and neighbouring countries in the country’s east.

As the Rwandan-backed M23 extends its hold in North Kivu, the coming months will test whether the priority given to loyalty and technical expertise in government appointments enables the DRC to regain its territorial integrity.

Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us. 

Development partners
The ISS is grateful for support from the members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the European Union, the Open Society Foundations and the governments of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Related content