The results of the general elections recently held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after being delayed for two years show interesting developments. The opposition remained weak despite rallying together, and the Catholic Church came to play a pivotal role. This post explores the ‘gambling game’ through which these elections have been compromised by surprises. The far-fetched results of the presidential elections will unlikely contribute to the DRC’s long-term stability.
The recent elections held in the DRC were characterised by the high number of candidates running for vacant positions: 23 presidential candidates (of whom 21 finally contended for this position), and about 15,000 candidates vying for 500 seats in the national assembly. At the provincial level, more than 19,000 candidates competed for 780 seats.
But the debates and the media’s coverage of the elections that took place at the national and provincial levels focused mostly on the presidential elections, as this is the center of Congolese politics and power struggles. Whoever controls this position will certainly have an upper hand. Based on the provisional results announced at the beginning of this year, Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, one of three contenders, has been declared the winner, beating Martin Fayulu Madidi and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a candidate of the ruling coalition (Front Commun pour le Congo). The latter is widely described as the ‘dauphin’ of departing president Joseph Kabila.
Many observers were surprised by Joseph Kabila’s decision not to run for a third term, even though the DRC’s Constitution does not allow for the extension of presidential rule beyond a second term. Many thought and predicted that Kabila would maneuver to extend his period of rule. Though he had not publicly announced this intent, he made many moves that hinted at attempts to contend again.
But in early November last year, nearly two years after Kabila’s second term ended in December 2016, he expressed willingness to cede power by nominating his ‘heir’, Ramazani Shadary. Few had predicted this scenario. Understanding this choice of Kabila of not running for the third term, one however cannot rule out the pressure and leverage of the international community but also that of regional organisations such as SADC and the African Union.
The persisting weakness of the opposition
While uncertainties were surfacing around elections, the Congolese opposition parties had been struggling to establish a strong scheme through which they could work together, with all of them rallying behind Fayulu as a united candidate. However, Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe decided to break away from the agreement, opening a breach to a rift within these opposition political parties. As this withdrawal expressed once again weaknesses within the Congolese opposition, observers could predict a breach through which the ruling coalition could easily influence the electoral process, hence declaring their candidate as the winner.
Since the Peace agreement in DRC in 2002, there seems to be a bunch of surprises and compromises in Congolese politics. Nonetheless, the announcement of Felix Tshisekedi as the new president is seemingly the compromising ‘gambling game’ for the short-term future.
The Catholic Church as saving grace
The delayed electoral process was saved through the intense involvement of the Catholic Church in December 2016, when the elections were originally intended to take place. Via the Congo National Episcopal Conference (Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo: CENCO), the failure to organise elections had been ameliorated by reaching an agreement led by Catholic Bishops in Kinshasa. The Catholic Church managed to bring on board opposition parties that had dismissed previous consultations. Moreover, the agreement helped to set up an agreed electoral calendar and eased tensions. Though widely interpreted, the agreement advocated finding a compromise over ‘political prisoners’ and those under prosecution for likely politically oriented motives.
The Catholic Church is among the few institutions and organisations whose actions in the DRC are influential, with the Church wielding power countrywide. The Church is among the few providers of public services in a fragile state setting. It deployed approximately 40,000 observers during the recent elections. And being largely embedded in local communities, it has much leverage and influence to gather information from the polling vote.
Problems with the voting procedure
The voting procedure also reveals the struggle for true representation of the Congolese people. Since 2011, the general election would be won by achieving a simple majority instead of an absolute majority. Among the top three, the announced elected president won 7,051,013 votes (38.57%), while the second on the list, Martin Fayulu, obtained 6,366,732 votes (34.83%)—a difference of 1.7%. Moreover, the participation rate in this election has been estimated to be around 47.56%, meaning that 52.44% of the population did not vote. Winning this presidential election by such a small margin facilitates a discussion on how excluded territories could have been a ‘game changer’.
A ‘gambling game’
Remarkable about the Congolese elections is the role of the church. While the government blocked all international involvement and did not allow observers, the churches have been the binding factor that enabled the election and organised the observers. It shows the relative strength of civil society in the country that is characterised by a severely fragile state. Even though this has probably helped to avert large-scale violent conflict (at least until now), it has not resulted in an uncontested outcome. Instead, one could suspect that the announced results are a ‘gambling game’ that characterises the elite class in the DRC. In most cases, these types of ‘gambling games’ end up with elites making deals to access large shares of the pie to the detriment of its citizens. Notwithstanding all the challenges presented above, these developments could lead to more violence in the future.
Image Credit: MONUSCO Photos/R56A9909
About the author:
Delphin Ntanyoma is a PhD Researcher in Conflict Economics at the ISS. On his blog www.easterncongotribune.com, he writes about developments in the Eastern DRC.