Will this election change the DRC?


With the announcement this weekend that the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) ruling party had won a substantial majority in the national assembly, the picture of the DRC’s post-election power structure is becoming clearer.

Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, declared the winner of the presidential vote by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), will have significantly less independence than outgoing president Joseph Kabila had before him. Kabila ruled with a national assembly dominated by his party, and a prime minister whose decision-making ability always depended on presidential approval.

In the DRC’s new political reality, Kabila and his party will want to ensure that these roles are reversed, with their chosen prime minister wielding substantial authority. According to the Congolese constitution, the prime minister must come from the party with the parliamentary majority, which is Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), with between 250 and 300 seats.

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress has 31 seats and his coalition partner, the UNC led by Vital Kamerhe, has 15, making them a minor player in the National Assembly and weakening Tshisekedi’s presidency.

Kabila’s strategy has enhanced his reputation while ceding only minimal power

According to the CENI, the ruling FCC also won most of the seats in the 26 provincial assemblies, which means it will be able to vote in its candidates for the provincial governor posts. The FCC will also have a majority in the Senate, where Kabila, who automatically gets a seat as a former head of state, could be elected president. The president of the Senate is second in line to the president of the country.

If Tshisekedi’s victory was the result of a political deal between him and the Kabila camp, and not a legitimate victory, there will have been other elements of power sharing that will have been agreed. These would most likely have been around key ministries such as defence, interior and foreign affairs.

The army will remain a pillar of Kabila’s power, as will the intelligence services. Whatever the details, Kabila’s strategy has allowed him to walk away with an enhanced reputation while ceding only minimal power.

If no deal was made, and Tshisekedi knows that he won fair and square, it would make more sense for him to join the chorus of voices asking for full transparency. An uncontested victory would grant him the credibility he’d need to balance the substantial influence of the FCC and the Kabila elite.

Congolese appear divided on the outcome. Tshisekedi’s supporters are happy, of course, and are generally not demanding greater transparency. Those who supported Martin Fayulu’s Lamuka coalition, which also includes political heavyweights Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, support Fayulu’s contestation of the CENI’s results.

If Tshisekedi knows he won fair and square, he should join the chorus asking for full transparency

There are also those from both camps who feel that it is enough that the FCC’s candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, didn’t win, and who don’t want a drawn-out period of post-electoral contestation.

It matters because the quest for greater transparency is not a simple question of principle – it is about what the DRC’s long-term future looks like. The Congolese people have made it clear that they want a functional democracy, the right to vote, and respect for their constitution. They have expressed frustration with a ruling party they consider corrupt and ineffective.

This sustained domestic pressure was a key reason Kabila didn’t stand for an illegal third term. It may also be what drove the ruling party to refrain from imposing Ramazani as a winner.

Whoever runs the country will face significant challenges. Dismantling a decades-old system of state capture, networks of vested interests and widespread corruption will take time, and a huge amount of political will. In the DRC’s new political reality, Tshisekedi will have little margin for manoeuvre, as those whose interests are threatened by a clean-up have managed to hold on to substantial power.

For Congolese this means more years of bad government and bad governance. International, and specifically African, actors are key to pushing for transparency and preventing a possible electoral hold-up.

A political compromise now would amount to an invalidation of the Congolese population’s vote

The African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC), South Africa and Angola should echo Congolese civil society demands for a publication of the written results from each polling station. This is also the position of the European Union and several other countries. And the Catholic Church needs to share any evidence it may have that the CENI results are false.

Statements from the AU, SADC and South Africa have referred to using domestic legal channels to contest the results. But there are no Congolese institutions that can do this job objectively and independently. The Constitutional Court is stacked with judges appointed by Kabila and its judgments over the past few years clearly demonstrate this bias.

SADC took matters one step further this week, asking the Congolese authorities to hold a recount and suggesting the situation might be resolved by forming a government of national unity. A recount would again depend on the political will of the Congolese authorities – the country’s electoral law stipulates that a recount can be called by a judge, under exceptional circumstances.

On the other hand, calling for a government of national unity is premature while the presidential election results are being contested. A political compromise now would also amount to an invalidation of the Congolese population’s vote. It is also unlikely that the Fayulu camp, which says it won the presidency with 61%, would agree to this.

South Africa in particular has often suggested that stability is the most important factor – more important than perfect democratic processes, especially in countries emerging from conflict. The past two years of electoral delay and uncertainty have destabilised the whole country, and the election was supposed to end that.

However this stability must come not just from any election, but from a free and fair one, with credible, verified results. That is not what this election was and it is naive to think that just because the head of state isn’t Kabila, things will change.

Stephanie Wolters, Senior Research Fellow, ISS Pretoria

In South Africa, Daily Maverick has exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles. For media based outside South Africa and queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

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