A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes
A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes
Commentary / Africa 7 minutes

DR Congo: Learning the Lessons

Several weeks behind schedule, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has published the results of the legislative elections held on 28 November 2011. They are the outcome of a process that witnessed many violations of the electoral code, disregarded several million votes and experienced vote-counting operations too opaque to make verification possible (See the statement from the Carter Center and statements from European Union electoral observation missions and subsequent statements from Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, the EU and the United States). Yet the INEC president, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, rejected all the international community’s offers to help with vote counting. The results, which will determine the complexion of the new National Assembly, therefore lack credibility. 

Map showing alleged electoral irregularities.

The political complexion of the National Assembly remains much the same but there are some subtle changes.

Whether the results are credible or not, they unquestionably reveal some major trends:

  • the political landscape is more fragmented;
  • the presidential camp has lost some ground but not lost its dominant position;
  • the opposition has renewed its ranks without significantly improving its overall position;
  • Congolese politics is divided along ethnic-provincial lines.
National Assembly, DRC, 2006

As the diagrams above show, the dominant trend is fragmentation of the political landscape. In 2006, five parties presenting more than 300 candidates (PPRD, MLC, RCD, MSR and FR) won 243 seats (48.6% of the National Assembly), while in 2011, nine parties presenting more than 300 candidates (PPRD, UDPS, UNC, UFC, MSR, PALU, PPPD, AFDC and ECT) won only 220 seats. Half of the 98 parties now represented in the National Assembly have only one seat and only eleven parties have more than ten seats (namely, the PPRD, UDPS, PPPD, MSR, MLC, PALU, UNC, ARC, AFDC, RRC and ECT). The main winner of this election was neither Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (Parti du peuple pour la reconstruction et la démocratie, PPRD) nor Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social, UDPS). The winners were rather the increased number of micro-parties with between one and three seats. There are 29 more of these parties in the National Assembly compared to 2006. This proliferation of micro-parties is accompanied by a major reduction in the number of “independents”, who have melted like snow in the sun from 63 in 2006 to 16 in 2012.

Given this increase in the number of micro-parties, the major parties, such as the PPRD, the MLC and the PALU, have all lost ground. While remaining the first party in the assembly, the PPRD only obtained 61 seats compared to 111 in 2006. Although all the big parties (except for the new ones) lost seats, some lost many more than others: the MLC is in free-fall, losing 42 seats, while the PALU, the RCD-National and the UDEMO lost fifteen, fourteen and seven seats respectively. This sometimes massive reduction represents a protest vote against the parties in the 2006 assembly, both the majority and the opposition.

Although the presidential party is losing momentum and the internal dynamics of the presidential camp are changing, the presidential majority is undoubtedly the dominant force in the 2012 National Assembly, on the basis of the INEC’s figures. The PPRD and its allies have 341 seats but the majority of 2012 is not exactly the same majority as in 2006: the PALU has lost ground in favour of a new party, the People’s Party for Peace and Democracy (Parti du peuple pour la paix et la démocratie, PPPD), founded by former members of the PPRD, while the MSR of Pierre Lumbi is now the third mainstay of the majority. Far from being concentrated in one or two parties, the presidential majority is composed of many different ones, which initially did not fit in with the plans of PPRD leaders but will not prevent them from being able to form a majority for key votes and therefore retain complete control of the assembly.

For a better understanding of the subtleties of the electoral process, it should be noted that despite the reduction in the number of PPRD seats and the dispersal of the majority into many groups, the key figures in the “Kabila system” and members of the Kabila family were elected, including Augustin Katumba Mwanke, Jeannine Mabunda, Lambert Mende, Evariste Boshab, Jean-Pierre Daruwezi, Simon Bulupyi Galati, Charles Mwando Simba, Celestin Mbuyu, Norbert Basengezi, Justin Kalumba, Adolphe Muzito, Olivier Kamitatu, Janette and Zoé Kabila, etc. (Janette Kabila was elected as an independent while her brother Zoé Kabila was elected under the colours of the PPRD). All the system’s candidates for the post of governor were elected, except in South Kivu and Western Kasai. However, Alexis Thambwe, José Endundo and Martin Kabwelulu, ministers for foreign affairs, the environment and mines respectively were not elected.

The subtle changes in the presidential camp contrast with the profound changes in the opposition. The parliamentary opposition of 2006 has given way to two new parties. The MLC has lost its place as leader of the opposition. It now trails the UDPS and is closely followed by another new party, Vital Kamerhe’s UNC. The two newcomers will have no trouble superseding the former parliamentary opposition. However, the new parliamentary opposition will only exist if Etienne Tshisekedi allows his deputies to take their seats in the assembly. If the DRC’s second biggest party boycotts the assembly, it will only further weaken the opposition and will mean the UDPS having to go back to square one.

The legislative elections clearly show the ethnic-provincial nature of Congolese political parties. Only the PPRD elected deputies in all the country’s eleven provinces and only four parties (UDPS, PPPD, MSR and PALU) elected deputies in more than six provinces. However, all parties, including the PPRD, have a significant provincial base that forms the core of their electorate: Katanga(PPRD, PPPD, ECT, UDCO, UNADEF and UNAFEC); Province Orientale (MSR, AFDC, RRC and MIP); Equateur (MLC and PDC); Bandundu (PALU and ARC); Eastern and Western Kasai (UDPS); North Kivu(RCD K-ML) and South Kivu (UNC). The UDPS and the UNC also have a strong ethnic-provincial base: 25 of the UDPS’s 41 deputies are from the Kasais and ten of the UNC’s seventeen deputies are from the Kivus. It is particularly the case that both majority and opposition parties have a strong base in the home provinces of their leaders.

Learning lessons

Some international actors have flagged up the need to learn lessons from the presidential and legislative elections, especially in view of the forthcoming provincial and local elections. Several actors do in fact need to assess their contributions to the elections:

  • INEC. Why were the polling stations map and the electoral roll incomplete and inaccurate, even though several million dollars were spent on them? Why were several million votes not included in the count? Why did INEC accept the expert assistance of the NDI and the IFES but then reverse this decision?
  • Supreme Court of Justice. According to what procedure and with what guarantees of independence were additional judges appointed in the middle of the electoral campaign?
  • United Nations. Why did the UNDP’s electoral experts apparently fail to draw attention to the problems that arose during preparations for the elections and not point out the need to put back polling day by a week or two? To what extent did they participate in the ad hoc commission establishing the results? To what extent did MONUSCO check the integrity of the boxes of ballot papers it transported? To what extent was MONUSCO’s good offices mission successful? Why, in 2012, is there a surge of armed groups that were supposed to be declining in 2011?
  • SADC, AU, ECCAS, ICGLR and COMESA and other observation missions. Why did they restrict themselves to short and even very short-term missions?
  • Donors. Why did they invest more than $100 million in an electoral process that was biased from the start? Why was the European Union’s contribution debited from the budget set aside for indispensable infrastructure in the DRC? Will the EU pay its last tranche of funding after its observation mission said the elections lacked credibility? To what extent are donors ready to fund the provincial elections if the governing party is dominant and the INEC has no credibility?
  • UDPS. Will the party boycott the National Assembly or will it use parliament as the engine-room for forming an opposition alliance?

Contrary to appearances, publication of the results of the legislative elections does not signal the end of the electoral process and several problems have yet to be resolved. For example, the organisation of another ballot in seven constituencies where the result was annulled. Then there is the matter of the provincial elections. Scheduled for March in the initial electoral calendar, the INEC has already postponed them without setting a new polling day. They cannot be postponed for too long without creating institutional problems (non-renewal of the Senate, non-renewal of the governors who were elected as deputies, etc.). In theory, provincial elections could take place in better conditions than the elections of 28 November, if the INEC’s current composition is changed. Funding of the rest of the electoral process also remains an open question. In addition, after Vital Kamerhe’s appeal against the results of the presidential election, nobody has any illusions about how the Supreme Court will deal with the hundreds of complaints submitted about the legislative elections, even if their rejection might provoke dangerous local reactions. January has in fact witnessed an upsurge of intercommunal tension and activity by armed groups in North Kivu, where the CNDP of Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese officer wanted by the International Criminal Court, has established a political presence. In the context of intercommunal tensions, the pointlessness of legal complaints and the international community’s silence on the Kabila government’s use of force, the losers in the legislative elections may be strongly tempted to exert pressure by resorting to violence in the areas where militias are strong.

The western donors remain hesitant. Despite their public criticisms of the election, their options range from the strong temptation to do nothing to a carefully weighed “review” of international engagement with the Kabila government. Although the western donors genuinely want to learn lessons from the 2011 elections, the least they can do is to consider how to avoid a repeat of the 28 November elections during the forthcoming provincial elections.

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