DR Congo: Provincial elections a dress rehearsal for the 2023 elections | News

The Sacred Union of the Nation (SUN), the ruling coalition in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), won gubernatorial elections in 11 of 14 provinces, according to results released by state television.

In the elections held last Friday, the SUN wiped the slate clean, according to the country’s national broadcaster, Radiotélévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC). Former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) won one seat – Maniema in the eastern region. Three of the newly elected are women.

The second round of elections should take place at the beginning of next week in the provinces of Kongo Central and Tshopo to decide between the two candidates who came out on top, announced the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

Governors of 14 of the country’s 24 provinces have been dismissed by local assemblies, accusing them of various wrongdoings – from mismanagement of provincial resources to incompetence.

They were mostly members of the FCC, whose alliance with President Felix Tshisekedi ended in December 2020. The firing of the governors was seen as revenge after they joined SUN in what has been a game of continued power between the president and his predecessor, allies turned enemies.

A dress rehearsal

The gubernatorial elections are seen as a dress rehearsal ahead of high-stakes presidential elections in the Central African state, scheduled for December 2023.

The DRC, one of the richest countries in the world on paper, is one of the poorest in reality despite an assortment of mineral resources. For decades, its mines, borders and deferral zones have been the scene of long-running conflicts orchestrated by armed groups and dissidents.

Locals regularly cry over what they say is institutionalized corruption that has sparked widespread poverty in this country of around 90 million people. According to the World Bank, one in six people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is in the DRC.

Its economy has also been affected by complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And residents have denounced the government’s incompetence to provide cushions.

No wonder, then, that elections have become extremely important.

But observers and experts say the weekend’s provincial elections were marred by irregularities that could play out on a larger scale next year.

Kinshasa-based political analyst and journalist Alain Uaykani said there were “candidates [who] were bribed to run for office by provincial deputies who had been paid by the national government for a long time”.

“A lot of people here are denouncing the results saying they got mixed up in corruption,” he said.

“The gubernatorial elections have been characterized by votes motivated by corruption or political injunctions,” added Stewart Muhindo, a Goma-based researcher and activist with the civil society organization LUCHA.

“The fact that women have been elected is great news for the promotion of equality in our country,” he said. “But the real good news that can really be expected from these women rulers will be to serve the citizens of their respective provinces loyally.”

Same names, same problems

Ahead of the 2023 elections, some candidates have already signaled their intention to replace President Tshisekedi who is seeking a second term, but the pace of the campaign remains slow as political swaps continue.

Last week, former Prime Minister Augustin Matata announced he would run for president. Other heavyweights such as Martin Fayulu and former Katanga province governor Moise Katumbi are also expected to declare presidential candidacies in the coming weeks.

Prominent civil society leaders say the political process could be a litmus test of democracy in the DRC, a country where there has been no peaceful transition between civilians and civilians since independence from Belgium in June 1960.

In early 2019, Tshisekedi, son of longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was declared the winner over Martin Fayulu in a hotly contested election widely believed to have been overthrown by Kabila.

The young Tshisekedi had been favored for the reins by his predecessor whose 19-year term began in 2001 after the assassination of his father who had also served as president.

International observers reported vote buying, voter intimidation and other irregularities; the influential Catholic Church said the result announced by the CENI did not match data collected by its own election observers.

Fayulu also called the decision to award victory to his opponent an “electoral coup”.

In 2020, Tshisekedi ended his party’s coalition with Kabila saying it prevented him from implementing a number of programs, including the appointment of Constitutional Court judges, and from “meeting the expectations of Congolese”.

It was seen as a coming-of-age decision for a man seeking to lessen his predecessor’s influence and increase his own. And now there are fears that the president and his supporters will do anything to consolidate power.

The appointment of Denis Kadima as CENI president, for example, drew anger from the Catholic Church, Protestant lawmakers and the opposition, as he was seen to have close ties to Tshisekedi.

In October 2021, police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters marching through the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, to demand a neutral electoral commission and those sentiments still hold true.

“For the 2023 elections, I am pessimistic,” Muhindo said. “I think there will be fraud, that the power in place will not be elected but will cheat. Félix Tshisekedi could use his influence on the electoral commission, the justice system and the security services to defraud and impose himself as the winner,” he added.

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