In March the President of the electoral commission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Cornielle Nangaa, was in Washington, D.C. to meet with partners and share with them the status of the electoral process in his country. The presidential election, one of the eleven elections required by law in the DRC, is currently the main concern of the opposition, pressure groups, religious institutions and the international community. During Mr. Nangaa’s address to civil society and pressure groups at the DRC Embassy in Washington he explained some key facts and answered a number of questions which are summarized below.
What is the context of the Presidential election in the DRC?
A quick survey of the electoral process in the nine countries which border the DRC:
Republic of Congo and Rwanda – the constitution was amended in both countries to enable the current presidents to run for aagain.
Republic of Uganda – recently held elections described by many observers as unfair and lacking transparency.
Burundi – currently ongoing through a crisis related to the presidential term limit that began in 2015.
Angola – the president just announced that he will not run again for president in 2018 after holding power since 1979.
Tanzania and Zambia – both countries have time and time again held peaceful elections.
South Sudan – the youngest nation on the face of the planet is in crisis in part because elections were not given a chance for the people to choose their leaderships for the first time since its independence from Sudan.
Cameroon – the president has been in power since 1982 and is planning to hold elections earlier than scheduled for reasons that appear to be a further effort to remain in power.
Are the elections going to be held in November 2016 in accordance with the constitution?
The Presidential elections can be held in November, but it is unlikely. They will only take place if the political class agrees that the electoral commission can use the voter registry used for the 2011 election cycle. However, this option presents several technical issues which will most likely lead to contested results. In fact, since the last election cycle millions of voters on the registry have died. How do we remove them from the registry? People have changed addresses. How do we find out where they are so that they can vote in their assigned precinct? The current law says that Congolese who are abroad have the right to vote, but how to register them? What about those who live in nations which do not allow foreign elections to take place on their soil? Also, the option to use the previous voter registry also disregards millions of youth who have come of age to vote since the last elections. In addition, in the border areas, particularly the East, when rebel groups occupied the area they also looted the electoral commission’s office. They looted the equipment and supplies used to make voters’ cards. With this we face a challenge of voter card integrity because to this day they still are printing and distributing this cards which are also used as national identification cards.
Will the elections be delayed and for how long?
It is likely that the elections will be delayed. However, this delay is not because the electoral commission did not do its work. The previous president of the electoral commission, Reverend Apolinaire Malumalu, published three electoral calendars which the political actors failed to agree upon. Preparatory activities for the election were supposed to have started in May 2015. When he resigned for health reasons, the new president of the Electoral Commission, Mr. Nangaa was only appointed in November 2015 and launched the preparatory process of a new voters registration in February 2016.
At this point, Mr. Nangaa says a delay makes sense. On a list of activities to be carried out prior to the election is the enrollment of voters. The preparatory processes for the last two elections took more than 15 months each . Under the same or even improved conditions the Electoral Commission is projecting that it will take between 15-17 months for the elections to be held starting from February 2016.
Of the 11 elections required by the Congolese constitution, should the presidential be held before the local?
The DRC’s electoral legal framework requires 11 elections. At the national level there are 3 elections: presidential, senatorial and parliamentarian. At the provincial level there 2 elections that are required: parliamentarian and governor. The remaining are municipal and local elections. There are two other distinctions to underscore. Some elections are direct, meaning conducted by popular vote. These are the elections of the president, national parliamentarians, provincial parliamentarians, municipal council, sector council and cheferie. The rest are indirect elections which consist of officials elected by popular vote choosing people to fill constitutionally-specific government posts.
It is important to recall that that there have been three proposed electoral schedules which have not been implemented due to lack of consensus among the political class. The more recent was published on Feb 12, 2015. It was comprehensive schedule of the 11 constitutionally required elections, but it has been rejected. The stakeholders characterized it as unrealistic, too inclusive and not consensual. In 2014 another was published and it was said to be partial because it focused only on local elections. The other was published in 2012 and it was not also implemented.
Based on these trends, before publishing a new calendar Mr. Nangaa said he will make sure the government is willing to fund it, the lawmakers are ready to update the laws which need updating and the international community’s financial and logistic support is present. Currently the DRC does not have the needed means to transport ballots across the nation with very poor or non-existent road conditions in many areas. For the last elections in the DRC, the United Nations used 69 cargo planes and 32 helicopters in addition to boats and many heavy duty vehicles in order to transport ballots.
How does the national political dialogue suggested by President Kabila relate to the independence of the election?
The Electoral Commission’s president believes that the elections do not depend on the political consultations commonly referred to as dialogue. However, if the dialogue takes place and decisions are made regarding the elections the commission will implement them.
One thing is needed to hold elections to the international standard in the DRC: a revised voters registry. Otherwise, there are different political opinions about the way forward for the elections. Some want the elections to take place beginning with the local level. Others say that given the clear requirement of the presidential term limit enshrined in the constitution the elections must start by the presidential. Politically there is a need to compromise and agreement on common path forward.
What are the legal implications in delaying the elections which are required to be held at the end of the President’s second term?
This is one issue which must be resolved by the constitutional court. The court is likely to approve an extension. What are the other options? We already have many elected officials who are serving beyond their legal mandates, including senators, representatives and governors who have all been serving for 10 years beyond their terms. If the president was to do the same and have his term extended it will not be a new phenomenon in the DRC.
The way of violence is not an option in solving the issue of elections. The DRC cannot afford another war. It can undermine the progress made. Funding and political will can avoid a longer delay of the elections.
You can watch his interview in French given to Mr. Marius Muhunga at the DRC Embassy in Washington DRC hours before he held a briefing with NGO representatives and individual Congolese diaspora