What You Need to Know about Elections in the Congo

When are the elections?

Electoral campaigns in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially began on Friday, October 28.

The legislative and presidential elections are currently slated for November 28.

Who’s running for president?

The incumbent: 

President Joseph Kabila, officially registered as Independent, although he founded the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) and the party continues to support him. Kabila launched his campaign on Sunday October 30 in Kindu, Maniema Province. He said that he is confident he will win, but if he doesn’t he will step down. He is running on a platform that emphasizes his commitment, since being elected in 2006, to energy, health, and infrastructure. He has been president since the assassination of his father, President Laurent Kabila, in 2001 and won DRC’s first post-Mobutu election in 2006.

The main challenger: 

Étienne Tshisekedi, of the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). While acknowledging the achievements of the president since 2006 in the areas of infrastructure and other developments, Tshisekedi has been emphasizing livelihoods and social progress, saying, for example, “Congolese will not eat roads?”

Other contenders: 

Vital Kamerhe, former president of the National Assembly, of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), says infrastructure development in Kinshasa has been excessive and more resources should be devoted to fighting corruption and impunity.

Kengo wa Dondo, current president of the Senate, of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) is running on a platform that emphasizes the restoration of justice.

Jean Andeka Djamba, Alliance des Nationalistes croyants congolais (ANCC)

Adam Bombole Intole, Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), has encouraged all parties and candidates to abide by the electoral code of conduct and aspire for peace, regardless of the diversity of opinions among them, so as to avoid the kind of violence that accompanied the previous elections in 2006.

François-Nicéphore Kakese Malela, Union pour le réveil et le développement du Congo (URDC)

Oscar Kashala, Union for the Reconstruction of Congo (UREC)

François Mobutu Nzanga, Union des Démocrates Mobutistes (UDEMO); the eldest son of Mobutu Sese Seko has emphasized the need for better governance, constitutional reforms, and has vowed to “use military force to crack down on Congolese soldiers and rebels” who have pursued a campaign of rape against civilians. He has sought to distance himself from the legacy of his father, who ruled DRC with an iron fist for more than 30 years.

Reverend Josué-Alex Mukendi Kamama, Independent

Antipas Nyamwesi Mbusa, Independent

None of the candidates are women.

An electoral code of conduct facilitated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) is calling for peaceful conduct and non-inflammatory campaigning during the electoral process. All candidates have signed the code of conduct except Tshisekedi.

What’s up with the Legislative Elections?

According to Radio Okapi, about 19,010 parliamentary candidates are running to fill 500 seats in the National Assembly. In Kisangani, for example, 232 candidates will be competing for 5 seats.  There are 428 political parties, according to the International Crisis Group.

There have also been some problems with the lists of candidates submitted to CENI by the PPRD. Under Congolese electoral law, a party cannot run more candidates in a particular district than there are seats to fill. In Ituri, the PPRD list contained ten candidates for five vacancies. According to Radio Okapi, when opposition parties complained, the head of the CENI office that processes applications in Bunia claimed it was a technical error. On October 5, the UDPS filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Justice seeking the invalidation of PPRD candidate lists in a number of districts in which this same violation occurred. The court rejected the petition on the grounds that it was filed “one day after the legal 4-day deadline provided in the Electoral Law for filing such appeals.”

One of the parliamentary hopefuls this year is a Mai Mai militia leader with a warrant out for his arrest, issued January 6 of this year by the Congolese government, for crimes against humanity and mass rape.

On a more hopeful note, at least 71 women candidates are on the legislative ballot in South Kivu, who met at the initiative of a Congolese NGO in mid-October to discuss campaign strategies. Two CENI officials were present to help explain the electoral process. Georgette Songo Biebie, president of the Congolese Women’s Caucus, told the IRIN Humanitarian News agency: “Although the constitution stipulates that there must be gender parity in the electoral process, it is not enforced or respected in reality. But what really hampers women’s participation is poverty – most women are too poor and to join politics one needs money …  We have not lost hope though, we have seven values we are basing our fight on: patriotism, love, ethics, responsibility, work, reconciliation and peace.”

The Challenges

The elections in 2006 were marred by violence. In the meantime the Kabila government, like most before it, has failed to bring stability to the country, especially in the east. Kabila himself hails from the eastern Kivu region.

There are three main challenges for the elections next month. First, there is the logistical challenge of transporting 4,000 tons of ballot papers, 186,000 voting boxes and 64 million voting cards to 62,000 polling stations in a country with a poor transportation network, as reported by the BBC. The UN mission, MONUSCO, will be assisting the electoral commission, CENI, with this aspect of the election.

Second, In January the ruling party changed the electoral law, dropping the second-round run-off. This means that a candidate no longer has to get more than 50 percent of the vote; whoever wins the first round wins, meaning the incumbent, if facing a divided opposition, could win the election with as little as 15 percent of the vote and thus taint the legitimacy of the presidency, according to columnist Samuel Kapata.

And third, the neutrality of the electoral commission CENI, and whether they will be able to meet the logistical challenges of the election, has been called into question.

The Upshot

It will not be impossible to carry out the elections on time, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that they will be seen as legitimate even if they do go ahead as scheduled. Worrying indications that they will not go peacefully have already surfaced, as police have been cracking down increasingly harshly on political demonstrations in the capital and journalists are being targeted more and more frequently with threats and acts of violence. Inflammatory rhetoric has permeated some of the presidential hopefuls’ campaigns. Unlike the last election, the Congolese state is driving the process this time; while receiving substantial logistical support from MONUSCO and the European Union this time around, the DRC government has its work cut out for it if it hopes to avoid a post-election catastrophe.