A new ICG report was published this week that obviates the need for me to provide an update on the elections. It contains a thorough summary of the political landscape before the elections as well as a detailed list of recommendations for donors and Congolese parties.
As the report is in French (with an English summary), I will outline what I found to be the most interesting findings:
- The government has launched a disturbing wave a repression in the lead-up to elections, arresting and harassing opposition members and journalists;
- The opposition is in disarray, lacking an overall leadership as the UNC, MLC and UDPS squabble within their own parties and among each other – in particular, the picture painted is of an ethnicized opposition, with the UNC popular only in South Kivu and Ituri (thanks to an alliance with the UPC), and the UDPS and MLC in several western provinces;
- The government is aiming at reducing the number of overall parties in parliament by revising the electoral law;
- The CENI suffers from political bias and is unlikely to be able to meet the electoral calendar that it set itself. There have been numerous delays and hiccups in the financing and execution of voter registration and planning for the elections. This will lead to a constitutional crisis come December 6, when President Kabila’s term runs out and a new president has not yet been elected;
- The international community is not nearly as well organized and involved in the elections as in 2006, when it provided 90 percent of financing and UNDP and MONUC officials were intimately involved/led the electoral process.
- There has been little investment in security for the elections, and there are troubling signs of unrest in the Kivus, Equateur and Katanga (detailed in the report). There has been little investment by donors or the government in securing the electoral process.
The Crisis Group concludes, somewhat gloomily, that donors and Congolese parties need to act to avert a potentially serious and violent crisis. Their main – and controversial – recommendation is for the majority and opposition parties to agree on a deferral of the elections to prevent botched and hasty polls. This recommendation is likely to vex the opposition, which has insisted on numerous occasions that a new president must be sworn in by December 7th, when Kabila’s term has expired. ICG says that will probably be impossible, so a contingency plan must be elaborated to propose a transitional arrangement and deferral of elections by several months.
A similar recommendation was made on day after the ICG report was released by a group of Congolese NGOs, who argued that the majority and opposition either have to agree on December 17th (the date the winner is supposed to be announced) or have to change the calendar to an earlier date.
Overall, I find ICG’s report to be solidly argued and documented, with many useful details on incidents of repression and the lacunae of the electoral process. Whether or not it is really impossible for elections to take place by November 28th (as the electoral calendar says) is hard for me to say – I have already heard complaints from diplomats in Kinshasa that this report is too pessimistic in this regard. I do think it will be difficult for the opposition to compromise on the calendar, especially as they have already released a press statement saying that even the November 28 date is too late. Also, Tshisekedi made delays in the electoral calendar one of his main reasons for boycotting the 2006 elections.
The one disagreement I would have is with regard to the analysis of the security situation – ICG warns of an Ivory Coast-style conflagration over elections, and says that the security in the country is extremely volatile. This is true, but we should also recognize that none of President Kabila’s main opponents has known links to an armed group or militia, and it is unclear who could mount an armed challenge to his government, as Bemba did in 2006/7 or as Ouattara did with Gbagbo. It is unclear how fraudulent elections will impact armed groups in the Kivus, for example.
There could indeed be widespread urban unrest and rioting, although the comparison with the 1991 looting in Kinshasa, when inflation was at over 2,000 percent and the economy, is a bit alarmist. For me, the main security risks will be violent repression of demonstrations and riots, as well as the uncertainty that an illegitimate president and parliament would bring.
Here are some of the other interesting recommendations made (I left out the most obvious ones):
- The majority and opposition should sign a code of conduct that would be monitored by civil society, MONUSCO and diplomats;
- Create an inter-party committee for elections to encourage dialogue;
- Civil servants should sign an oath of impartiality with regards to the elections;
- The electoral commission should publish the electoral roll by district on the internet and allow for complaints and revisions;
- Campaign funding of all parties must be made public;
- The election fund and the electoral commission should be subjected to a financial audit after elections;
- A civil society central should be set up to catalog abuses and compile votes as they come in during elections;
- MONUSCO should be given a stronger mandate to observe the elections and use their good offices to resolve disputes (two jobs MONUSCO currently regards as a bit contradictory);
- Special Envoys should be named for the EU, France and the US.