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Interview on the Congo’s electoral process: Guillaume Lacaille

As on the momentous occasion of the third anniversary of President Kabila’s inauguration, I interviewed Guillaume Lacaille from the International Crisis Group about the direction the government is taking. Guillaume was recently in Kinshasa to take a closer look at the electoral process – it isn’t looking very good.

Why are the 2010 local elections that important for the continuation of the democratic process? In addition to their own democratic merits, the holding of local elections would close the first electoral cycle of the Third Republic that started with the successful presidential and provincial elections of 2006, thus allowing to prepare for a new round of voting in 2011. This is important because rooting democracy in the DRC requires to respect the Constitution by electing people’s representatives and then going back to the people’s vote at the end of a political mandate. To be straight forward, we would know if democracy in Congo is really solid if the 2011 presidential elections are held in time and in a similarly free and fair fashion. In that context, organizing the local elections can be seen as “rehearsal” of the presidential elections since many of the capacities and resources used for the locals will also served for the presidential vote.

Today, can we be confident that the local elections are going to be held in 2010 as officially scheduled? Unfortunately, recent developments are indicating that this is becoming very unlikely. The international community has offered to provide $130 millions of the $163 millions that the local elections were supposed to cost. MONUC and UNDP have mobilized their electoral experts to help the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) still chaired by Abbé Malu Malu. Still, what was expected from Congolese authorities has failed to materialize. The legal framework is still not completed due to delays in the provincial and national Parliaments. The government has only disbursed $4,9 millions of the $10 millions it had committed to make available to the CEI, and the CEI itself has not yet been able to finish revising the electoral lists used in 2005 and 2006. Since the process of revising these lists and doing the voting would take between 6 to 12 months, the window of opportunity to have local elections before starting preparation for the 2011 presidential elections is closing rapidly.

During the inter-institutional meeting that was held in Mbuji-Mayi on 25 November, Kabila has restated his commitment to hold local elections. Does that reassure you? It does not seem to reassure the international electoral experts. A recent decision made by the Congolese political leaders is troubling them a lot. Just after the registration operations that were carried out last summer in Kinshasa to update the list of voters, the Congolese authorities have decided, against the recommendations of the international experts, to change the methodology used to update the lists in the rest of the country. The CEI is now working on a methodology that will require all Congolese above 18 years old in 2011 to register. It apparently also included all the Congolese adults who already voted during the previous elections. Ross Mountain, the number 2 civilian official in MONUC, warned Abbé Malu Malu that this would create unbearable logistical and financial constraints, making it impossible to update the voter registers in time to hold the local elections. In Mbuji-Mayi, President Kabila has confirmed that Congo would use this new approach.

At the same time, Kabila also announced a lot of decisions in Mbuji-Mayi that demonstrate that the DRC is willing to take more responsibilities in organising its own elections. Shouldn’t that be respected by international observers? Expressions of strong political will to support democratic initiatives are always positive when backed with concrete actions. Congolese leaders were right to say that the DRC would have succeeded when there would be no reason for MONUC to stay. Kabila confirmed that he had requested MONUC to start withdrawing from Congo on June 30th, 2010, for the country’s 50th anniversary of independence. He announced that his government would take charge of the organisation of the 2011 elections and that revenues generated by the sell of new mandatory national ID cards will pay for the additional costs caused by the adoption of the maximalist approach of voter registration. The problem is that these decisions would not help securing the electoral process. Without MONUC logistical assets, international mentoring, foreign donors’ money, and reasonably updated lists of voters, the presidential elections are in jeopardy, especially if local elections are not hold in 2010. Time and money are running short and the Congolese president has set overly ambitious objectives for his administration.

What would happen if there are no local elections in 2010? Since it is technically impossible to organise both local and general elections in 2011, all actors will probably move on and turn their attention to the organisation of the general elections. It will be already a major breach into the Constitution not to have elected local representatives. Congolese technical capacities in organising votes would be lost and a lot of money would be wasted in a logistical nightmare without realistic hope of establishing a proper voter registration in time for even 2011. I would not like to see such a scenario unfolding. The CEI is expected to announce officially an electoral calendar at the end of this week, or early next week. This will be a turning point. If Malu Malu does not offer tangible signs that the Congolese authorities come back to a more limited and realistic approach to voter registration, then local elections would not happen. An UN expert told me recently that if the CEI doesn’t reverse course, it will reinforce the views of those who believe that the DRC Government deliberately kill the local elections and that it doesn’t want to have international witnesses looking into the running of the presidential elections.

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