DR Congo: Can anyone stop Joseph Kabila?

While the opposition tries to unite, the presidency seems to be working out various possible scenarios for staying in power.

For nearly a decade, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been an electoral democracy, a fragile and dysfunctional one, but an electoral democracy nonetheless. However, in the eyes of many Congolese, this status risks being forfeited at the stroke of midnight on 20 December 2016.

According to the DRC’s constitution, the president is permitted two consecutive mandates of five years. But with just five months to go until the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term, there are no signs of an election to appoint his successor.

The government has regularly reaffirmed its commitment to elections and attributed the open-ended postponement to technical and financial factors. But given that Kabila doesn’t appear to consider himself bound by the constitution and that he has been notoriously uncommunicative about his intentions, many fear that he intends to delay the election until he can find a way to stay on for a third term.

On two separate occasions recently, Kabila has assured the people that elections are coming, but he omitted to say when they would be or whether he will be taking part.

Does Kabila want a third term?
In recent months, Kabila’s potential route to extending his presidency has become more visible. This May, the constitutional court – responding to a request from 260 pro-Kabila parliamentarians – ruled that that the incumbent is allowed to remain in office until elections are held.

This decision horrified the opposition who argue that the Senate President should take over if elections haven’t been held. But for Kabila’s allies, the ruling gives a veneer of legality to a scenario in which Kabila stays on beyond 19 December.

At the same time, supporters of the president appear to be preparing the country for the possibility of a referendum to modify the constitution. This plan – which was frequentlyfloated in 2013 and 2014 – seemed to have been dropped in September 2014 after the president of the National Assembly failed to secure parliamentary approval for a referendum. But it appears to now be back on the table.

Since June, Henri Mova Sakanyi and Ramazani Shadari – the respective secretary-general and deputy secretary-general of Kabila’s PPRD party – have been telling supporters and reporters that a referendum is the desire of the Congolese people.

For instance, the gung-ho Shadari told a reporter this month that “there will be a third term for Kabila that the population is going to impose…either by referendum or another form”. Meanwhile, in an interview on 11 July, Sakanyi cast Kabila as the reluctant leader selflessly awaiting the instruction of his people. “He doesn’t want to change the Constitution and a referendum is not on the agenda”, he said, before adding that a referendum would be “constitutional” and that if the population calls for one “we will bow before their will”.

To the surprise of no one, billboards and banners have also begun to pop up throughout the country welcoming a referendum and unending Kabila hegemony.

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by William Clowes

Photo Credits: VoteTshisekedi