DRC delays election to 2018 despite opposition anger

Main opposition bloc views vote delay as President Joseph Kabila’s attempt to remain in power beyond his term.

Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York
Kabila came to power after his father's assassination in 2001 [File: Lucas Jackson/Reuters]

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says it will push back next month’s presidential election to April 2018, in a move that is expected to keep President Joseph Kabila in office until the delayed vote.

The decision, announced on Sunday after talks between the ruling coalition and smaller parties, will anger the main opposition bloc, which boycotted the cross-party discussions.

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“The main opposition coalition have not been part of the dialogue that led to this decision,” Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Kampala in neighbouring Uganda, said.  

“They say that the dialogue is not fair, not transparent and it is part of what they say is Kabila’s attempt to over-stay in office.”

The presidential election was originally scheduled for November, with Kabila, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office, due to step down in December.

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But earlier this month, Corneille Nangaa, the electoral commission president, told delegates participating in the cross-party talks that the body would not be able to conclude its update of the voter registry in time, and would need extra time to organise an election. 

“The Congolese government has initially said that it didn’t have the money to hold elections,” our correspondent said.

“They later said that there were logistical challenges for them to update the electoral register,” Webb added.

“But the opposition want an election much sooner, and crucially what they do not agree to is Kabila leading an interim government after he ends his second constitutional term in December.”

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Parties agreed in talks on Saturday to give more time for voter registration and keep Kabila in office until the delayed vote, said one organisation in the discussions, the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), in a statement, according to Reuters news agency.

Delegates at the talks would probably ratify the decision on Monday, the statement said.

Vital Kamerhe, the president of UNC, is widely expected to become prime minister as part of the power-sharing government ushered in under the talks.

Protests expected

Congo’s main opposition bloc has already called a general strike for Wednesday to press Kabila to leave at the end of his mandate in December.

“If the opposition succeeds in gathering large crowds, as they have done before, we need to wait and see what kind of reaction they are going to get from the police and the security agencies,” said Al Jazeera’s Webb.

Last month, dozens died in two days of protests in the capital Kinshasa against planned delays to the vote. 

The United Nations has said that 49 people were killed, most shot by the police and the security forces. But the government blamed the violence on opposition forces and banned all protests in the country.  

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Kabila, who came to power in 2001 when his father was assassinated, says he will respect the constitution but has yet to rule out attempting to change the country’s laws to enable him to run for a fresh term.

The head of the UN mission in the DRC warned last week that the political impasse poses an “extreme risk” to stability. 

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies