Election in Congo: undemocratic democracy

January 11, 2019

The regime change in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) can now be accepted as fact. Although protests did cost lives, compared to earlier power shifts this transfer of power took place in a more or less peaceful way. This is unprecedented in Congolese history. Also promising is that these elections came about due to the pressure from religious leaders and political activists in Congo, and due to efforts by diplomats and the international community. The Bishop’s Conference of Congo (CENCO) and its 40,000 electoral observers played a particularly constructive role.

Lack of transparency

So much for the positive news. There is cause for concern in the discrepancy between the official results published by the National Independent Electoral Mission (CENI) and the outcomes of the electoral observers’ monitoring process. The official ballot counting was cloaked in shadow. After the polls had closed, it was soon clear that President Joseph Kabila’s puppet candidate, Emmanuel Shadary, had lost. Based on the information collected by their electoral observers, CENCO concluded that there was a clear winner – without mentioning a name. The public concluded that the opposition candidate Martin Fayulu had won.

Back-up plan

But Kabila’s regime was not done. They took their time, testing the political waters, to see whether they could still impose Kabila’s favoured candidate. They must have concluded that this would be unacceptable. So Kabila opted for his back-up plan, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) declared another opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, the winner with 38.57% of the votes. In theory, Fayulu’s party could appeal the outcome at the Constitutional Court. But it remains to be seen if the appeal would stand a chance unless the CENCO published their vote tallies. Until now they have not been prepared to do so. Thus, the Congolese have gotten their long awaited regime change, although not a change based on the democratic will of the majority.

Kabila’s shadow

For the current regime, Tshisekedi was the second best option. The son of a respected opposition leader who died two years ago, Tshisekedi has a limited constituency. Since Kabila will maintain control of a considerable part of the military, security services and crucial institutions, it will be hard for Tshisekedi to pursue an independent course. Only time will tell how much influence Kabila will be able to wield over the incoming administration.

For the moment, the world is holding its breath and waiting for the public to react. The Congolese seem to accept the result because Kabila’s dauphin has left the scene. The CENCO for its part has urged the Congolese population to stay calm. One can only hope that disappointment does not turn into a resurgence of conflict.



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