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The dangers of rushing to elections

There has been a flurry of editorial and press statements over the past few days about Congolese elections. In particular, pundits have been reporting on the election commissioner Mulunda Ngoy’s meeting with the minister of interior last week, during which he handed over the annexes to the electoral law that have to be adopted by parliament in order for the electoral process to go ahead. If these annexes are  not adopted by August 10, he warned, they will be forced the uncouple the legislative and presidential elections.

What exactly is Mulunda on about? Well, the official voter registration is now over, which has resulted in a redistribution of seats by electoral district. Since there has been no census in the country since, I believe, 1984, the voter registration figures form the best idea we have of how many people live where and, therefore, how many MPs there should be per electoral district. (See here for the redistribution by province).

In order for the electoral process to stay on track, prospective MPs have to register by September 7. They cannot begin registering without knowing how many seats there are per district. Once they have registered, the election materials can be printed and distributed throughout the country. This is why several editorials in Le Potentiel and La Prospérité have urged MPs to pass this amendment quickly in the extraordinary session that will soon begin in Kinshasa. MONUSCO added their voice to this chorus yesterday with a press statement, also pressing for a quick adoption of a legal amendment.

There is, however, a danger. The voter registers have not been audited by an independent group of experts. According to civil society groups, the lists of registered voters have not even been posted on the outside walls of some of the registration centers, as is required by law. There have been many allegations of fraud, including the registration of foreigners, children and fictitious people. So wouldn’t a rushed adoption of an amendment legitimize this potentially flawed voter’s register? Is it really possible that, in this context of rapid urbanization, Kinshasa could lose 7 seats? And would a quick adoption of an amendment not make it difficult afterwards to revisit the problem of “cleaning” the voter register?

I have been hearing more and more voices calling for a postponing of elections. A group of Congolese civil society organizations – including ASADHO, LINELIT and CENADEP – published a memo a few days arguing that “it would unrealistic” to hold elections within the constitutional deadlines (i.e. declare results by December 6). Diplomats in Kinshasa are now beginning to say the same in private, although they would prefer if the CENI could reach an agreement with all  major parties on a deferral before they make any statement. According to some in the diplomatic community, we are now 8 weeks behind schedule in the electoral process.

Would it then not be better to postpone an amendment to the electoral law until CENI has commissioned an independent audit of the voters’ register? Even the UDPS, I assume, with their reputation for legal punctiliousness, would prefer a delay to going to elections with a flawed list of voters. In this, for once, I agree with Azarias Ruberwa, the head of the RCD, who is the first (semi-)major political figure I have seen come out in favor of postponing elections.

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