DRC: What rules will be put in place ahead of the 2023 elections?

By Romain Gras
Posted on Thursday, 24 March 2022 11:18

In the courtyard of the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante in Lubumbashi (illustration). © PHIL MOORE / AFP

As concerns rise over possible changes to the electoral timetable, the National Assembly must decide on the rules that will govern the next elections.

The countdown is on. On 15 March, the National Assembly opened its new parliamentary session, the main purpose of which is to vote on the future electoral law. This is of the utmost importance, given that Félix Tshisekedi’s term in office will end in less than two years and that the president of the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (Ceni) has given several warnings about how difficult it is to respect the constitutional deadlines.

“There are also legal constraints and uncertainty regarding the major policy options that need to be addressed in the electoral reforms. If we opt for a second round in the presidential election, this would have an impact on the budget for operations. Even whether Congolese abroad have a vote or not […], all this would have an impact,” said Denis Kadima, while presenting his roadmap.

A second round?

Several proposals have been on the table for many months, including that of the G13, a group of parliament members – some of whom are now ministers – who conducted consultations in the hopes of obtaining a broad consensus on electoral reforms.

On the National Assembly’s table since 17 September 2020, this document proposes, among other things, abolishing the electoral threshold – the minimum number of votes that a candidate must obtain to win a seat in parliament. This would be replaced by a “condition of admissibility of the lists in proportion to the 60% of seats in competition.” In other words, in order to compete, a party will have to be able to present candidates in 60% of its constituencies. This measure is intended to limit the number of micro-parties.

The proposals also included “re-establishing the second round of voting in the presidential elections”, which would have a definite cost and could prevent the elections from being held on time, as well as “publishing the polls’ results on a polling station-by-polling station basis” – a provision that is seen as a guarantee of transparency.

Less ambitious is the proposal tabled last November by the Lusitanian parliament member Coco-Jacques Mulongo, from the presidential party. He wants to rule out the possibility of choosing substitutes within the families of elected representatives. The idea is to no longer allow figures who are standing for election at different levels (presidential, senatorial, provincial, etc.) to pass on their mandates to their relatives. The G13 also made this proposal.

Katumbi, neither ally nor opponent

It remains to be seen what the majority’s elected representatives will agree on. This revised law’s content will, for the most part, determine whether this election will be able to both logistically and financially take place within the deadline.

The subject is far from anecdotal. The DRC’s partners, who fear a shift in the timetable, and even some of President Tshisekedi’s allies are paying particularly close attention to it. Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement de Libération du Congo, for example, sent a note several months ago with recommendations, including on how the results should be announced.

The entourage of Moïse Katumbi, whose relations with Tshisekedi have not improved since Denis Kadima’s appointment to the Ceni, fear that a law tailored to the outgoing head of state will be introduced. Neither a real ally nor a real opponent, the former governor of Katanga finds himself marginalised within a coalition where he has 70 parliament members and seven ministers.

The Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (Cenco), with which Tshisekedi was in conflict during Kadima’s nomination process, has also made its recommendations. However, despite an attempt at appeasement in November, the situation remains tense between the President and the Catholics, as well as with the Protestants, who did not want Kadima.

According to our information, representatives from Cenco and the Église du Christ au Congo (ECC) met with Christophe Mboso, president of the National Assembly, a few days before the parliamentary session opened and insisted on the need to organise “credible, inclusive and timely elections.”

Unsurprisingly, the pro-Kabila opposition is still up in arms against this electoral process, which they feel is biased. “A presidential election is like a competition, there are referees, in this case, the president of the Ceni and that of the Constitutional Court. As long as there is no consensus regarding the choice of these two figures, the process will be one-sided,” said Nehemiah Mwilanya Wilondja, Joseph Kabila’s former cabinet director. “We refuse to accept this policy of fait accompli that the government wants to impose on us.”

Polluted debates

Even though the stakes of the session that opened in Kinshasa are high, the debates could end up being disrupted by a last-minute proposal, which was issued on 18 March by parliament member Steve Mbikayi, a Kabila camp-defector who joined Tshisekedi’s group. This elected official, who claims to have 20 signatures on his petition so far, proposes creating a fourth Republic to replace the one created in 2006, at the end of the transition period following the second Congo war. His project’s main provisions include transitioning to a presidential regime, ending the five-year term and replacing it with a seven-year term, and abolishing institutions deemed budgetary, such as the Senate.

Mbikayi’s announcement certainly elicited strong reactions from people. “It is the same people in the opposition who questioned the neutrality of the elections’ arbitrator and asked that the fundamental law not be touched who are now initiating these manoeuvres whose sole aim is accumulating power,” said Wilondja.

One of Tshisekedi’s main allies within the Union Sacrée, who had confirmed several days before this proposal was presented that a working group tasked with reviewing the Constitution did in fact exist, says “that the president does not intend to modify the Constitution.” “No one is preventing parliament members from working, but it would be wrong to say that it was an order from the president,” concluded an adviser to the head of state.

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