Friday 14 December 2018
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Democratic Republic of the Congo: DRC’s flawed elections will probably go ahead - What does this mean for the country’s long-term trajectory?

Source: Institute for Security Studies Country: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Martin Fayulu, one of the main opposition candidates in the upcoming Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) elections, arrived back in Kinshasa this week for the first time since the seven key opposition leaders met in Geneva two weeks ago to elect a unity candidate. His party and those of the two other substantial opposition leaders supporting him – Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi – had been mobilising support for his return. Felix Tshisekedi, the frontrunner according to recent polls, and Vital Kamerhe, also a serious contender, participated in the Geneva talks. But they withdrew their support for Fayulu, arguing that their supporters wanted them to run. This show of support matters, because it is considered a bellwether for how the Congolese population will respond to a fraudulent election. Five weeks ahead of the DRC’s long-awaited elections, a key question that many are asking is whether there will be protests after the polls and, if there is violence, how long it will last. Will it peter out after a few days, allowing things to fade back to normal, or will the popular pressure and activism we have seen over the past three years be sustained, requiring some sort of external response? Martin Fayulu, one of the main opposition candidates in the upcoming Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) elections, arrived back in Kinshasa this week for the first time since the seven key opposition leaders met in Geneva two weeks ago to elect a unity candidate. His party and those of the two other substantial opposition leaders supporting him – Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi – had been mobilising support for his return. Felix Tshisekedi, the frontrunner according to recent polls, and Vital Kamerhe, also a serious contender, participated in the Geneva talks. But they withdrew their support for Fayulu, arguing that their supporters wanted them to run. This show of support matters, because it is considered a bellwether for how the Congolese population will respond to a fraudulent election. Five weeks ahead of the DRC’s long-awaited elections, a key question that many are asking is whether there will be protests after the polls and, if there is violence, how long it will last. Will it peter out after a few days, allowing things to fade back to normal, or will the popular pressure and activism we have seen over the past three years be sustained, requiring some sort of external response? So while the new opposition platform Lamuka, formed in Geneva two weeks ago, continues to fight for the scrapping of the voting machines and a more credible environment, it seems the rest of the players – domestic and international – have moved on. They appear to have accepted that the election will take place on 23 December, regardless of the restrictive political environment and lack of transparency on key issues. Lamuka knows that its conditions are unlikely to be met, but also that a boycott of the election would be playing right into President Joseph Kabila’s hands, and it wants to maintain pressure until the last minute. With SADC and the AU the only international election observer delegations accredited by the DRC – numerous others were turned down – there will be a lot of pressure on the domestic observers to document incidents of fraud or intimidation. In any case, much of the election ‘rigging’ will already have been accomplished before voting day. Another avenue for contestation would have been the implausibility of a Shadary victory in the face of a united opposition which boasts several popular figures. Thus the international efforts to midwife a unity candidate. In the end the two primary contenders – Tshisekedi and Kamerhe – were voted out, leaving the prize to the much lesser known Fayulu. This political fiasco is undoubtedly a boost to the Kabila camp for several reasons. First, Shadary now faces a divided opposition field with at least three serious candidates. The Kabila government amended the constitution ahead of the 2011 election, scrapping a second-round run-off. With the opposition divided, this makes it much easier for Shadary to win, or to look like he has. Second, the Congolese political class has demonstrated its venality, betraying a population that has repeatedly pushed for its right to elect a new president in a free and fair process. As a result, the Congolese population, exhausted by the political battle of the past three years and by the punishing socio-economic crisis, may grow apathetic about the election outcome. Third, there is now substantial bad blood and divisions over what approach to take to the elections, making any kind of coordinated response – now or even after the elections – that much harder to organise. Finally the international community, faced with many competing challenges in the world, would have found it much easier to engage a united opposition, both ahead of the process and afterwards. That said, this crisis is not the making of the opposition. It is the making of a political elite that wants to cling to power. Although some have tried, international and African actors have failed to prevent it from preparing a sham election that may allow it to do just that. It matters, because at stake is not the integrity of an exercise but the longer-term trajectory of the DRC and the wider Great Lakes region. For now the lesson the DRC – and its neighbour Burundi – teaches us is that international and African actors do not yet have either the tools or the gumption to prevent corrupt elites from hijacking a country. Stephanie Wolters, Head, Peace and Security Research Programme, ISS Pretoria

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