DRC: Coalition, crisis and constitutional chaos
from JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA – THE announcement of a coalition among opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo has coincided with an intense crackdown of critics of the President Joseph Kabila and opponents to his plans to stay in power, in defiance of the constitution.
The former military man who won extended his rein by winning dubious elections in 2006 and 2011, is barred by the Constitution from standing for a third term.
With the incumbent not showing any signs he would be ceding power and the state security reacting heavy-handedly to largely peaceful protests, the vast central African country seems headed for more political mayhem.
Social unrest has beset the central African country since the end of November last year when Kabila announced his intention to convene a “inclusive national dialogue” intended to allow a consensus on the electoral calendar and the financing of elections.
While five months later the project is yet to materialise, critics have seen this as a ploy by the former army general to cling to power beyond the end of his mandate in 2016. More than 40 people were killed in violent protests over the issue in January 2015. This and clashes between the country’s military and armed groups have forced 35000 people to flee in recent weeks
Faced with such a scenario of Kabila overstaying his constitutional mandate, in an unprecedented development, opposition are pinning hopes on its coalition- Citizen Front 2016 -to help unseat Kabila should an election be held in November as initially scheduled.
Prominent businessman-cum-politician Moise Kitumbi has emerged as the frontrunner for the coalition after his unanimous nomination by parties, although he has not confirmed his participation. Katumbi resigned from the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) in September after accusing Kabila of attempting to subvert the constitution and stay in power.
During the period, a number of ministers quit Kabila’s cabinet in opposition to his plans to amend the constitution. These include Civil Service Minister, Jean-Claude Kibala, Land Affairs Minister Bolengetenge Balela. Others are Olivier Kamitatu, who resigned from his post as Minister of Planning, Charles Mwando Nsimba Minister of Rural Development) and Pierre Lumbi (Presidential Security Advisor).
The opposition recently reiterated their refusal to participate in a so-called national dialogue and rejected any further postponement of the presidential election.
Earlier this week, police fired shots and teargas to break up a crowd before a political rally Katumbi was lined up to address in Lubumbashi, the second-largest city, southeast of the country.
Kabila, in power since the death of his father, Laurent, in 2001, has faced strong opposition there and several prominent supporters have defected from his ruling coalition over the months.
This week, scores were injured while dozens were arrested in the copper-rich ciy.
It was the second time opposition supporters had been tear-gassed in a week, sparking widespread condemnation.
Kitumbi remained defiant in the face of repression by the state security forces seen as loyal to Kabila.
“My message to the authorities is clear,” he said in Lubumbashi.
“Nothing can weaken our peaceful combat for democracy. Repression, intimidation and relentless only reinforce our actions,” he added.
Government spokesman, Lambert Mende, denied any heavy-handedness by police, arguing police intervened to disperse people blocking roads and preventing normal traffic.
“The shots were used to disperse the crowd,” Mende said.
United Kingdom Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes, Danae Dholakia, expressed the government’s concern at widespread reports of the arrest and intimidation of people carrying out political activity in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, among other areas in DRC over the last week.
“The Congolese people must be allowed to express their political views freely in accordance with the law if an agreed solution is to be found to the current political impasse,” said Dholakia.
He called on the DRC government to uphold the rights guaranteed by the Congolese Constitution and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
The influential Catholic Church recently opposed to plans by Kabila to extend his stay in power, calling on the citizens on to “defy” such attempts.
Some 40 percent of the country of 80 million people are said to be Catholic. Kabila is Protestant and his wife Lembe di Sita is Catholic.
“We ask the Congolese people to prove their vigilance in the spirit of Article 64 of the Constitution,” leader of the Congo’s Catholics, Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya.
The legal instrument stipulates that “All Congolese have the duty to thwart any individual or group of individuals that takes power by force or exercises it in violation of the provisions of the present Constitution.
While analysts have projected DRC to slip into chaos as is characterising fellow central African countries over term extension controversies, another school of thought suggests possible chaos could work in Kabila’s favour.
He can enforce parts of the Constitution, Stephanie Wolters, Head, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division at the South African-based Institute of Security Studies said.
“When it comes to a constitutional crisis prompted by a delayed presidential poll, the government has a ready-made answer: Article 70 of the Constitution, which states that the president remains in office until he is replaced by another elected president. But few are buying it; and nor should they,” said Wolters.
– CAJ News
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