Thousands protest in DR Congo over electoral commission appointee

Protesters oppose National Assembly's decision to appoint Ronsard Malonda as chairman of electoral commission CENI.

    In this file photo from July 9, protesters took part in the demonstration in Kinshahsa against the national assembly's choice of a new electoral commission head [File: Arsene Mpiana/AFP]
    In this file photo from July 9, protesters took part in the demonstration in Kinshahsa against the national assembly's choice of a new electoral commission head [File: Arsene Mpiana/AFP]

    Police have used tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa, four days after five people were killed in banned demonstrations against the choice of a new election chief.

    Protesters gathered in Boulevard Lumumba, one of the city's main avenues, marching around a vehicle carrying former rebel leader and opposition chief Jean-Pierre Bemba on Monday.

    The police broke up the gathering using tear gas, while men in civilian clothes threw stones at the demonstrators.

    Some protesters were badly hurt falling from vehicles escorting Bemba.

    Police officers clash with demonstrators in Kinshasa on July 9, 2020 in demonstrations organized against the presidential party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) for the appointment of th
    Protests last Thursday sparked a crackdown that led to the death of two protesters in Kinshasa [File: Arsene Mpiana /AFP]

    Security forces using tear gas also dispersed other protests in the eastern city of Bukavu and in the central city of Kananga.

    The marches were triggered by a decision by the National Assembly - dominated by supporters of former president Joseph Kabila - to appoint Ronsard Malonda as chairman of the independent national electoral commission, CENI.

    Pro-democracy campaigners said Malonda, currently CENI's secretary-general, has played a historic role in rigging elections in favour of Kabila, who was succeeded in January last year by Felix Tshisekedi, son of a historic opposition leader.

    Al Jazeera's Catherine Soi said the capital returned to calm after the demonstrators were dispersed.

    "The protesters were heading to parliament and were dispersed by police using tear gas," Soi said, speaking from Nairobi.

    "They say they are angry with the nomination of the president of the electoral commission, but also said, beyond that, they are unhappy with the leadership of the President Felix Tshisekedi and the coalition he has formed with former president Joseph Kabila."

    "They say this coalition has plunged the country in an economic and political crisis and the president needs to act urgently to resolve the situation," she added.

    Anger over 'irregularities'

    Monday's rally was called by the main alliance of opposition parties, Lamuka, which said that its candidate, Martin Fayulu, was denied victory in the December 2018 elections because of CENI's fraud. 

    "We do not want Ronsard Malonda at the head of the CENI, he is the driving force behind electoral cheating," said a Lamuka supporter named Edmond, who declined to give his full name.

    In a statement last week, Lamuka called Malonda an "agent" of Kabila's FCC political alliance, and demanded a financial and operational audit of CENI.

    Bemba, whose car was escorted to his home by the police, said he had been told by the security forces "that there were no deaths, no wounded, no pillaging."

    Protests last Thursday, staged by Tshisekedi's own party, the Union for Democracy and Progress (UDPS), sparked a crackdown that led to the death of two protesters in Kinshasa and three in Lubumbashi in the southeast of the country, according to interior ministry figures.

    Demonstrators run in the street during a protest where demonstrators and police officers clashed in Kinshasa on July 9, 2020 in demonstrations organized against the presidential party Union for Democr
     Demonstrators took to the streets of Kinshasa last week against the choice of a new election chief [File: Arsene Mpiana/AFP]

    Twenty police were injured in Kinshasa, two of them seriously, the ministry said. 

    The protests are unfolding while Tshisekedi has yet to announce whether he will approve Malonda as CENI chief.

    Tshisekedi told a cabinet meeting that he could understand anger about "irregularities" in the choice of the new CENI boss, but that he also condemned the violence.

    The authorities have banned rallies under emergency measures to combat coronavirus.

    A third round of marches has been scheduled for July 19 by Catholic and citizens' groups.

    Meanwhile, a police officer was sentenced by a military court on Monday to life imprisonment for the killing of a pro-democracy activist during a May demonstration in the eastern city of Beni.

    The DRC government has been ordered to pay the equivalent of $100,000 (88,000 euros) in damages for its role in the shooting death of Marcus-Freddy Kambale, according to pro-democracy Lucha movement and a civil party lawyer in the case.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies