Monday, September 25, 2006

Alliances Develop in Advance of the Second Round

Over the past week a series of alliances have developed in advance of the run-off between Jean Pierre Bemba and Joseph Kabila. Although many of the Congolese progressive and opposition forces believe a choice between Kabila and Bemba is tantamount to choosing between the plague and cholera, for the most part, they are beginning to become more engaged and are lining up in support of one of the two candidates.

Two candidates (Nazanga Mobutu 4.7% and Antoine Gizenga 13.0%) who did relatively well in the first round have thrown their support behind Kabila. Bemba has garnered the support of 15 of the presidential candidates and is seeking support from Etienne Tshisekedi and his UDPS political party.

The Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced the campaign period will run from October 13 - 27, 2006. Campaigning for the provincial elections will run from September 28 to October 27. Voting will take place on October 29, 2006 both for the presidential run-off and the provincial elections.

In spite of the alliances being formed, with each passing day, it appears that both sides are simultaneously preparing for conflict. Reports continue to unfold of heavy artillery and arms streaming into the city for both Kabila and Bemba.

Events such as the arrests of street children who are accused of stirring unrest on behalf of Bemba, the burning down of Bemba's television stations, harassment and jailing of journalists, have all added to the tension in the city.

It is difficult to say how the elections will unfold, however, one thing is clear, as long as the security forces of Kabila and Bemba are not disarmed or credibly integrated into the national army, the chances of violence occurring during the election period increases exponentially.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kabila & Bemba Meet While Supreme Court Rules October 29 Run-Off Date Unconstitutional

Kabila and Bemba finally met on Wednesday, September 13 during a meeting of the head of state and the four vice presidents. Both men were escorted to the meeting by United Nations troops. The two met alone for two hours after the meeting of the larger group. No proclamations or statements were issued by representatives of either camp. The meeting came in the wake of a flurry of diplomatic efforts by the South Africa, The European Union and Great Britain. The meeting is yet another step in the direction of calming tensions between the two camps but there is a long way to go to arrive at a point where the Congolese people can be assured of a peaceful run-off and acceptance by either party of the run-off election results.

On another note, the Supreme Court ruled that the October 29th date set by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) was unconstitutional. According to article 71 of the Congolese constitution the run off elections are supposed to take place 15 days after the announcement of the final/official results of the first round of elections. However, the constitution is silent on the exact date that the announcement of the first round of elections ought to take place. In fact, the Supreme Court has yet to announce the official results of the July 30th elections. Preliminary results had Kabila at 45% (5% short of the 50% needed to win an outright majority) and 20% for Bemba, which triggered the run-off.

The CEI argues that in light of the logistical challenges posed by organizing elections in the Congo, there is no way that a second round of elections can be organized in 15 days. The CEI submitted its case or justification for the October 29 calendar date on September 5, 2006. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the CEI's case. Nonetheless, Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling complicates the political environment and adds another element of uncertainty in an already tenuous climate.

However, we must remember that we are talking about the Congo which for all intents and purposes is currently under defacto international tutelage and/or trusteeship. If the Committee to Accompany the Transition (CIAT in French) wants the elections held on October 29, it will be held on that date irrespective of what the Congolese constitution says. It is the representative countries of the CIAT mainly from the European Union who are paying the $46 million for the second round of elections, therefore in the end they call the shots even though it may not be publicly stated.

Note: Picture by Kevin Jordan of MONUC

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Diplomatic Flurry to Bring the Belligerents Together

Thus far this week,Kinshasa, DRC has witnessed a diplomatic flurry, from the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki to the European Union foreign policy and security chief, Javier Solana,as well as Hilary Benn, the UK secretary of state for international development. All are in the Congo to try and assure a peaceful second rounds of elections.

Some progress has been made but the situation remains tenuous. Kabila gave permission for Jean Pierre Bemba's television stations to be back on the air. Bemba's camp indicated that this was a positive in the right direction that brings the two belligerents close to face-to-face talks. One of Bemba's condition for talks with Kabila was to have his television stations turned on by the Kabila government.

There is still grave concern regarding the outbreak of violence leading up to and during the run-off elections for president on October 29, 2006. All indications are that both the Kabila camp and the Bemba camp are well armed and ready to do battle. Nonetheless, Hilar Benn reported in a press conference that he got the two men to agree to meet in an effort to arrive at an accord that will pave the way to a stable and peacful second round of voting. A specific date had not been set for the meeting.

We must reiterate the vast gap that exists between the two belligerents and the Congolese people. The Congolese people clearly demonstrated their will for peace, stability and the ascendancy to power via the ballot. On the other hand, Kabila and Bemba appear to be holding the Congolese people hostage through violence as a result of their quest for power and riches by any means necessary. It is no wonder many Congolese said the choice between the two in the second round is like choosing between cholera and the plague.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Legislative Race: Presidential Coalition Does Not Win Majority

The Independent Electoral Commission released the legislative results today. Kabila's coalition, the Alliance of a Presidential Majority (AMP) garnered 200 seats while Jean Pierre Bemba's Rally of Congolese Nationalist (RCN) won 100 seats. The remaining 200 of the 500 seat parliament went to other parties and independent candidates. More than 9,700 candidates ran for the 500 seats.

Within the AMP and RCN coalitions, kabila's party, the PPRD won 111 of the 200 seats while Bemba's MLC won 64 of the 100 seats. The other 325 seats are split among 130 different groups. Click here for a comprehensive list of seats won by each party and independents in each of the provinces.

The new parliament is expected to be seated in 15 days. The parliament is responsible for choosing the prime minister. Since no one party or alliance won a majority, the diverse groupings will have to work together to arrive at a consensus as to who will be appointed as prime minister.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Update: Legislative Results

With almost all the attention focused on the presidential race, the legislative/parliamentary races get very little focus. Five hundred seats are up for grabs and over 9,000 candidates are running for these seats. Once the parliament is in place and the president determined, the parliament will elect a prime minister.

Thus far results have come in for 324 of the 500 parliamentary seats. The 31-party Alliance of the Presidential Majority, headed by Kabila, gained 161 seats. The 23-party Rally of Congolese Nationalists (Renaco) of jean Pierre Bemba, is in second place with 45 seats. The remainder of the seats are captured by other parties and independent candidates.

It is important to remember that these two major coalitions are coalitions of convenience, there is no guarantee that they are likely to hold. In fact, one can expect much "horse trading" as the final results are reported.