|Kabila's access to campaign infrastructure puts his campaign potentially beyond reach of opposition candidates [EPA]
As only the second multiparty national elections since independence in 1960, the legislative and presidential elections scheduled to take place on November 28 are widely seen as a test of DRC’s frail democracy.
With the country only recently emerging out of two brutal wars estimated to have cost up to five million lives, stability and development in the DRC is still regarded to be on a knife’s edge.
Such is the scale of volatility and disorganisation that surrounds the vote, that a successful election would be a giant step towards consolidating democracy and governance. But a botched affair could easily catalyse rampant violence and the collapse of the rule of law.
With poor transport infrastructure and the late delivery of ballot papers, there are fears that voting slips (printed in South Africa) and boxes (62,000 imported from China) will not reach polling stations across the length and breadth of a country the size of Western Europe.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) describes logistics as a bigger issue than security and fears remain that a mismanaged election, together with existing accusations of corrupt voter rolls would give credence to opposition accusations of irregularities should they voice concerns.
Compared to the elections of 2006, the electoral process is firmly in the hands of the DRC administration though delays and disorganisation have raised questions over the country's capacity to stage free and fair elections.
But if elections were to be postponed, it would warrant a constitutional crisis since Kabila would have illegally extended his tenure as president.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) cites an estimated 18,500 candidates, representing some 417 parties who have registered for the legislative elections. With 500 seats up for grabs, that means theoretically that an average of 37 candidates will be competing for each seat.
However, out of 11 candidates running for president, Joseph Kabila, the incumbent from the the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), through superior access to campaign infrastructure and a disjointed opposition, is expected to be re-elected.
Etienne Tshiseki of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), with three decades experience in Congolese politics is seen as the main rival along with Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) though it is unlikely that either leader would secure enough votes to effectively challenge Kabila.
Ultimately, the opposition's failure to form a united front because of different political agendas and goals seems to have severely damaged their hopes of defeating Kabila.
Though opposition leader Tshisekedi has campaigned for advanced democratic values, improved accountability, better governance, and has promised to improve access to basic essentials like water and electricity in the DRC, the opposition as a whole, like many others across the continent, have yet to articulate policy alternatives as part of their election manifesto.
As it stands, Tshisekedi in particular has merely promised to deliver on Kabila’s failed election promises of 2005.
Kabila promised to improve education, health, housing and infrastructure, and to decentralise power and to overhaul the security sector in a program known as Kabila’s ‘five pillars’ or ‘chantiers’.
The other leading opposition leader, Kamerhe, in a recent visit to the United States, said that his newly created party had “a vision for the Congo”, including ending the crisis in the east, through diplomatic, political and economic measures that would also include a special justice court to bring those responsible for violence and rape to book.
However, it is generally agreed that neither the ruling party nor the opposition parties have designed effective programmes and have instead relied on sweeping promises in a bid to win votes.
Human Development Index
Despite criticism of Kabila over his failure to decentralise governance and strengthen institutions, he is credited with having governed over a relative peaceful period in the country's recent history.
Though Kabila’s administration in Kinshasa has managed to maintain support in the east with promises of a ‘pacification’ programme, his support base has significantly diminished due to continued insecurity and lack of development in the region.
It is unclear how badly these shifts will affect Kabila, in a region where locals, some argue, are more interested in provincial elections due to take place in early 2012.
In truth, poor development and the non-delivery of basic services, including water and electricity, are the norm in many parts of the DRC and it remains to be seen if non-delivery of such services, together with little sizeable developments in the country, will shift the electorate.
As it stands, the UN Human Development Index (HDI) of 2011, which measures the progress of human well being, ranked the DRC last out of 187 countries surveyed. Moreover, some 71 per cent of the population continues to live in severe poverty.
The DRC still has the biggest UN peacekeeping forces through the auspices of MONUSCO, though they have taken a backseat in the organisation and funding of elections.
UN agencies, the ICG and other NGOs have warned of the possibility of violence in the lead up to the vote and in the event of election results being contested.
There has already been electoral violence in Kinshasa, with clashes between UDPS supporters and police forces resulting in multiple injuries and deaths.
Meanwhile, instability and insecurity remains a concern in the east, as attacks on civilians by armed groups continue to force yje displacement of thousands in North and South Kivu.
There have also been questions marks over the freedom of the press following a series of incidents between the Kabila government and journalists.
In August, journalists protested against intimidation against the media while in October, more than five journalists were detained and their equipment confiscated by police as they embarked on opposition coverage.
One of the areas that that have concerned the UN and activists has been the level of rhetoric from candidates. Both Kabila and Tshekedi have been vehement in the belief that they are each going to win the elections, raising concerns of a potential standoff similar to the months-long Laurent Gbagbo-Allasane Ouatarra confrontation in the Ivory Coast following last year's disputed vote.
Kabila’s move in January 2011 to change the constitution, thereby cancelling a runoff in the event of a leading candidate securing less than 50 per cent of the vote, is widely seen as an attempt to maximise his chances of re-election.
As it stands, elections are scheduled to take place on November 28 at thousands of polling stations across the country and results are scheduled for release on December 6.