Global Policy Forum

Congo: The Electoral Dilemma

While the DRC is scheduled to hold elections in December, it seems impossible that they will happen on time or without corruption. As the elections are not likely to go smoothly, they will call into question the legitimacy of the government, which could exacerbate many of the problems already present in the country. This International Crisis Group report looks at the situation and attempts to provide the best prescriptions for the elections to prevent a further deterioration of the government’s legitimacy.

May 5, 2011


After four years of electoral inertia and in a stalled democratic process, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is preparing its second set of democratic elections in a hurry and on a rolling calendar. Opposition parties are trying to unite, thus far without success, and the international community is not in charge, as in effect it was the first time, in 2006. The Congolese authorities face a dilemma: respect the constitutional deadline and organise botched elections, or ignore that deadline and slide into a situation of unconstitutional power. In both cases, the government’s legitimacy would be seriously questioned. The only way out of this Catch-22 situation is to both speed up preparations and negotiate a contingency electoral calendar and political agreement to manage an almost certainly necessary transition period. More attention must also be paid to putting in place essential measures for transparency and inclusiveness, as well as a security system that will ultimately require important UN help. If these steps are not taken, foreign partners should disengage lest they lend undeserved credibility to a fundamentally flawed process.

Instead of signalling consolidation of democracy, the coming elections present at best a logistical problem and at worst a new cause of destabilisation for a country that has still not recovered from the long wars that marked the end of the Mobutu era and its denouement. President Joseph Kabila’s ruling party has already launched its campaign, even before the official start of the electoral season, while the opposition is trying to find its “champion” for the presidential contest. More than logistical difficulties give reason for concern. At the start of the year, a constitutional review removed the presidential election’s run-off round, making it a single winner-takes-all round to the incumbent’s benefit, other electoral law changes favouring the ruling party may happen soon, as the draft bill is still being discussed. Within what is a general climate of insecurity, intimidation of Kabila’s opponents has already become apparent. Despite last-minute integration of some armed groups into the Congolese army, insecurity is still rife in the Kivus, while unexplained security incidents, including an attempted coup, have occurred in the west.

Technical preparations are lagging. Neither the new electoral law, the voters list, nor the budget are ready. Set up a year late, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) is in a race against time. Registration is already controversial, funding of the electoral cycle is incomplete, and the electoral calendar published on 30 March, though it partially respects constitutional deadlines, is problematic.

The international community’s role is far more limited than in 2006, when it organised, financed and secured all aspects of the elections. However, it still provides 40 per cent of the funding, gives technical assistance and maintains about 17,000 UN troops in country. Given the risks of electoral illegitimacy, bias and violence, it should not stay in the background but instead make clear to the Congolese politicians that a postponed election would be better than a botched one.

The international community, including through the UN Security Council and an inclusive donors forum, should make clear the need for the Congolese authorities to include essential measures in the electoral system and apply the same standards as in 2006. In this respect, stepped-up political engagement is required, and new Special Envoys for the U.S., France and EU should be appointed; the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations (SRSG) has an equally significant role to play. In order not to become trapped in a biased process that could all too easily become as violent as that which Côte d’Ivoire recently experienced, technical and financial assistance should be contingent on constant and precise monitoring of the freedom to campaign, respect for political pluralism, political violence, access to state media, dialogue with the Congolese authorities and state funding for the NIEC, as well as the opportunity for civil society groups to do their own monitoring of the process.

Congolese politicians and the international community should anticipate now the very real possibility that the 5 December constitutional deadline cannot be met. Negotiating a transition agreement with the opposition, setting a new deadline for organising the elections and limiting the business of government to routine matters during the transition would not yet guarantee a free and fair election, but it would avoid having a likely unconstitutional postponement of the elections become a crisis of legitimacy.


To the Congolese Government:

1.  Administer an oath of neutrality to all civil servants and respect it.

2.  Release funding for the NIEC immediately.

3.  Pay the police.

To the majority and the opposition:

4.  Negotiate a new electoral calendar for the likely contingency that postponement of the elections cannot be avoided and a transition agreement that sets a new deadline for the elections and provides that government would limit itself to routine business during the transition.

5.  Sign in a public ceremony an electoral code that emphasises respect of political freedoms, bans hate speech and stresses the obligation to challenge electoral results by legal channels only and that there will be no retaliation against defeated candidates and their supporters.

6.  Create a committee composed of representatives of political parties, civil society organisations, embassies and the UN mission in the DRC that will monitor and report on adherence to the code of conduct.

7.  Create an inter-party committee to maintain dialogue during the electoral process.

To the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC):

8.  Ensure the transparency of the electoral process and the NIEC’s accountability by:

a) publishing the voters list on the internet and in the constituencies, auditing it and making the challenge procedure public;

b) ensuring freedom of access for international observers, civil society and party representatives to the registration centres, the polling stations and the counting centres;

c) displaying the results after counting in the voting stations and on the internet;

d) creating a permanent consultation committee for the NIEC and the political parties;

e) punishing acts of corruption systematically;

f) accepting a financial audit by a competent foreign company after the elections; and

g) establishing a standard method for those who want to challenge the results, extending the time within which such challenges can be made and publishing the results by voting stations.

To Parliament:

9.  Ensure the inclusiveness of the electoral process by:

a) giving the vote to the diaspora;

b) limiting the deposit for candidates to an amount not exceeding twice the required bond in 2006 and making the bond redeemable for candidates who receive more than 10 per cent of the vote;

c) establishing no new criteria for presidential candidates; and

d) making compulsory the publication of electoral campaign funding.

To civil society:

10.  Monitor the entire electoral process and increase citizens’ involvement by:

a) organising provincial civil society platforms;

b) setting up a civil society counting centre; and

c) conducting civic education campaigns before the vote and a subsequent satisfaction survey of voters, with the technical and financial support of foreign partners.

To the international community, in particular the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the countries funding the electoral process:

11.  Make clear to the Congolese authorities that essential measures to ensure transparency and inclusiveness must be implemented and that if this is not done, they will disengage from the electoral process.

12.  Support technically and financially a civic education campaign and political party training.

13.  Assess the electoral process by:

a) sending long-term election observation missions;

b) taking part in the code of conduct monitoring committee;

c) auditing the UNDP-managed basket fund after the elections; and

d) appointing special envoys for the Great Lakes region.

14.  Reinforce the UN role in the electoral process and support electoral security by:

a) giving a clear mandate to the UN mission in the DRC to play a good offices role in event of pre- and post-election challenges. To do so, a team of experts in electoral monitoring should assist the SRSG and be deployed in the UN mission offices across the country;

b) giving a clear mandate to the UN mission in the DRC to provide early warning on electoral tensions and to plan security scenarios;

c) increasing the training of the Congolese police personnel in crowd management; and

d) deploying UN troops to the western part of the country.

Read the full report .


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