Crisis of confidence

DRC lawmakers vote out prime minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, a key Kabila ally

By Romain Gras

Posted on January 29, 2021 18:06

Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba was one of the last remaining bulwarks of the pro-Joseph Kabila majority in the national assembly.

He had been serving as President Félix Tshisekedi’s prime minister since May 2019 but was removed from office on Wednesday 27 January after lawmakers voted him out through a motion of no confidence.

A total of 301 lawmakers signed the motion filed on 22 January by Chérubin Okende, an MP affiliated with opposition leader Moïse Katumbi’s Ensemble pour le Changement political platform.

Of the 382 MPs present at the opening of the session, 367 voted to oust the prime minister and his cabinet. Under the Democratic Republic of Congo’s constitution, Ilunga is required to submit his resignation and that of his cabinet within 24 hours of the vote to President Tshisekedi.

Ilunga skips out on plenary debate

The plenary session took place without the prime minister in attendance. One day earlier, his absence led to the vote being postponed by a day. But the second time around, lawmakers followed through on the motion.

Away in Lubumbashi since 24 January, Ilunga arrived back in Kinshasa on the evening of 26 January. In Haut-Katanga Province, the head of government was received by former president Kabila, who moved to the region over a month ago. Almost no information has been divulged about this one-on-one meeting, but members of Ilunga’s inner circle confirmed that he had no plans to show up for the vote.

Nevertheless, the prime minister sent a letter dated 27 January to the interim speaker of the national assembly. In the 12-page letter, Ilunga addressed various points raised by the motion of no confidence against him, criticising it as “a political manoeuvre with no basis in fact, flouting the requirements of the rule of law”.

He added: “Virtually all 52 council of ministers meetings were chaired by the president of the republic, who provided guidance on many issues.”

Under pressure

Under pressure in recent weeks following the collapse of the coalition government formed between Tshisekedi and Kabila, Ilunga declined to resign from his post on 7 December. He said his stalling was motivated by wanting to obtain the former president’s approval ahead of his resignation, especially since Kabila is the one who put forth his name as prime minister.

Confronted with the growing defections of MPs from the Front Commun pour le Congo (FCC) party over to Tshisekedi’s new alliance, known as Union Sacrée [Sacred Union], Ilunga was in an increasingly tenuous position, even as pro-Kabila lawmakers came to his defence.

READ MORE DRC: Joseph Kabila’s plan of attack against Félix Tshisekedi

After leaving the plenary session early on 26 January amid the cheers of some MPs, the pro-Kabila camp refused to sit for the vote the next day in protest of the motion. In their view, “the interim speaker did not have the constitutional authority to oversee a motion of no confidence”.

Over the past few weeks, Kabila’s supporters decried what they see as a move by Tshisekedi to force through the vote. At the start of the session, interim speaker Christophe Mboso made a point to address such accusations, saying that “the prime minister doesn’t answer to the interim speaker; he answers to the assembly.”

Electing a new speaker

One month after the ouster of national assembly president Jeanine Mabunda, who, like Ilunga, is aligned with the FCC, Tshisekedi is gaining further ground in his offensive aimed at clinching a legislative majority.

Though MPs voted overwhelmingly to remove Mabunda and the prime minister, the next stages will be crucial and tricky to navigate for Tshisekedi.

READ MORE DRC: How the CIA got Patrice Lumumba

The national assembly’s special session is set to end on 3 February. In the meantime, the interim speaker’s job is to organise the election of a new leadership team. Candidates have until 28 January to declare their intention to run, and the election will take place on the last day of the special session.

Another stint for Jean Marc Kabund-a-Kabund as first deputy speaker?

Tshisekedi hopes that the assembly’s new leadership will be led by an FCC defector, but his preference has stirred up tension with his new allies, Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba.

“For now, all we know for sure is that Kabund-a-Kabund will run as Union Sacrée’s candidate for first vice-president of the national assembly; everything else is still being negotiated,” said a source involved in the talks.

READ MORE DRC: Sacred Union members Tshisekedi, Bemba, Katumbi fail to reach an agreement

After a few days of wavering, MPs aligned with Katumbi’s platform and Bemba’s party ultimately signed the motion of no confidence against the prime minister. They also formalised their membership to Union Sacrée this past Wednesday.

According to a source close to Katumbi, “Negotiations have resumed and are moving in the right direction.”

On the eve of the vote of no confidence, some lawmakers were still expressing concerns that there could be last-minute “betrayals” and called on their fellow colleagues to band together to oust the prime minister with the largest possible majority.

Before getting to work on forming his new government, the Congolese president is expected to receive a report in the coming days from Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, an ally who since 1 January has been tasked with establishing a new majority coalition. Tshisekedi is likely to be able to pull it off, and people are keeping an eye out to see how the posts will be divvied up – which will show the new balance of power.

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