DR Congo political crisis deepens as presidential vote postponed

Joseph Kabila

Joseph Kabila

A ruling by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s top court approving an electoral commission request to postpone the country’s presidential election by 18 months has compounded fears President Joseph Kabila may try to extend his rule for a third term.

The constitutional court ruled in favour of the electoral commission on Monday, which filed a petition last month to delay the November poll until April 2018, saying it lacked the funds and time to ensure the registration of all new voters.

“After a few hours of [deliberation] DR Congo’s highest court decided to approve the electoral commission’s request, which asked for a deferment of the presidential election that was due to be held before the end of the year,” FRANCE 24’s Thomas Nicolon reported from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa. “But both the electoral commission and the constitutional court agreed that the enlistment of all new voters was a priority.”

The decision came as participants in an African Union-mediated “national dialogue” reached a similar agreement on Monday to push back the vote, as well as form a new government with an opposition prime minister until elections can be held.

Although the talks were attended by Kabila supporters and part of the opposition, they were boycotted by the country’s main opposition coalition Rassemblement (“Gathering”), which has since called for a general strike on Wednesday.

“There still is a part of the opposition that denies everything that comes out of this dialogue, because they believe the aim of this dialogue was only to allow Joseph Kabila to remain in power. And this radical opposition is still asking for one thing: they want Joseph Kabila to step down by December 19, which is the end of his second mandate,” Nicolon said.

Fears of power grab

Kabila, who took office in 2001 after his father’s assassination, says he will respect the constitution, but has not made clear if he plans to find another way to run.

Last year, the presidents of neighbouring Congo Republic and Rwanda won referendums to change their constitutions to stand for third terms. Some analysts fear that the will similarly attempt to cling to power.

“Kabila is using the domino effect: one lapse in the electoral calendar could lead to another. By staying in power until the next elections, he has the possibility of delaying the election date again and again,” Antoine Glaser, a French journalist and Africa specialist, told FRANCE 24.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault criticised the decision to delay the elections on Tuesday, saying that it risked an escalation in violence. Dozens of people were killed last month after protests erupted in the streets of Kinshasa against plans to postpone the vote.

“Pushing back the election to 2018, an uncertain date is not the solution. There is a real risk of a clash. There is a danger of violent demonstrations and repression,” he said.

The European Union has also expressed deep concern over the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with foreign ministers threatening on Monday to prepare economic sanctions against the country unless it holds presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

“Dialogue must lead to the holding of presidential and legislative elections as soon as possible in 2017,” the European Council said in a statement.

“The EU will use all the means at its disposal, including individual restrictive measures against those responsible for serious human rights violations, those who promote violence and those who would try to obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis,” it added.