Fraud, Intimidation, and Repression: Uncertainty Surrounds the Election in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Peaceful march in DRC via Congo réformes CC- BY-20

For nearly two years, President Kabila’s regime has managed to cling to power despite pressure from the opposition and the international community. To prevent crisis in the country, these groups are now pushing the President to accept the organization of presidential elections.

Joseph Kabila's refusal to step down has numerous analysts concerned that the situation in the DRC could degenerate. The mounting opposition has denounced the state of political stagnation and continued its mobilization efforts. On February 25, a march in the streets of Kinshasa was organized by the Lay Coordination Committee (Comité laïc de coordination or CLC in French). Moîse Katumbi, currently in political exile in Brussels, called on Congolese “lovers of justice and peace” to join the movement.

The peaceful, pluri-religious march was again severely repressed; three people were shot and killed by the forces of order. An infant is on the brink of death after inhaling tear gas. For Women’s Day on March 8, women dressed in black to “honor the martyrs of democracy, fallen under the bullets of Kabila's police.”

Stalling for time

The opposition is multiplying their protests. Their spokesperson, Lambert Mende, affirmed not long ago that the majority candidate would be designated in July 2018. The regime however proved to be rather imprecise. In early February, Lambert Mende went back on his statement and explained to a journalist:

 I didn’t say that President Kabila would choose a successor in July. What I meant was that in July, in conformity with the electoral calendar, we would learn who the candidates are.

Questioned numerous times at official outings, Joseph Kabila has systematically refused to answer queries regarding his possible candidacy and even seems to enjoy keeping it a secret.

In a revealing and comical scene, the President mysteriously placed his index on his mouth while a journalist from RFI pressed him on the question. All this indicates that the President is playing for time and counting his allies.

However, his support abroad is progressively weakening while the pressure on him is intensifying. NGOs are now calling for the French and other foreign governments to suspend cooperation with the regime. Belgium, a historic ally of the DRC and the Congo, recently cut off bilateral relations with the regime. In mid January, the European Parliament approved a resolution demanding that Kabila organize democratic elections. Numerous associations, with the support of the European Parliament, have come together to submit a petition to the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the acts of violence committed by the regime in the region of Kasaî.

Electronic voting, a latent risk of fraud

More recently, the American ambassador to Kinshasa reported on the potential risk of electoral fraud associated with electronic voting machines.

Using these new technologies in such a crucial election would constitute an enormous risk,

explained the diplomat.

Many observers worry that the regime could try to influence the election.

The government has to take measures to create space for political discussion as well as a suitable environment for credible, free, honest, and transparent elections,

declared the head of peacekeeping operations at the UN, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

In its annual report on cyber-crime, the CLUSIF described a global increase in fraud and election hacking in 2017 and informed international institutions of the necessity of developing watchdog organizations for electronic voting.

The risk that the election could fail is very real, especially since the regime has often employed tactics to this end. Eight NGOs situated in Haut-Katanga were the victims of such machinations. They accuse telephone operators of colluding with the government to conduct regular Internet outages “for political purposes.” For example, on January 20, the day before an anti-Kabila protest organized by the Comité laïc de coordination (CLC) was to take place, both Internet access and SMS messaging were cut off.

Moîse Katumbi under pressure

The authorities do not only (violently) repress protests, as seen with the six protestors who were killed by police fire in Kinshasa on January 21. They also make regular attacks on the leaders of the opposition, and Moîse Katumbi is at the head of that list.

After being wounded in police violence during a political trial, he was sentenced to 36 months of prison and made ineligible to run for office on trumped-up charges of real estate despoilment. He now lives in political exile in Europe.

According to the judge who sentenced him, Ramazani Wazuri, the President himself orchestrated this judicial persecution. She also confirmed having been harassed and physically threatened. The culprits? Representatives of the regime, notably Kalev Mutond, the all-powerful chief of intelligence services. Today she is an exile in Europe and is under the protection of the FIDH.

Katumbi is the favorite in election polls. He is popular and was made candidate for a group of seven opposition parties. The former governor of the province of Katanga has been attempting to escalate international pressure on Kabila with the support of London, Paris, and Brussels.

The coming months should therefore prove critical. Will Kabila respect the established electoral calendar? Will a real democratic election be allowed to take place? Will Katumbi be able to safely run for office? The answers to these questions will determine the future of the DRC over the next few years.

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