Elections Approach in Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted in Africa | 10-Feb-06 | Author: Aldo Pigoli

The constitutional referendum that was held in Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) on December 18, 2005 was accepted by 84.3 percent of Congolese voters and was approved in May 2005 by the National Assembly. The successful passage of D.R.C.'s new draft constitution is seen as a stepping stone in the new political and institutional course in the central African country.

Background to the Elections

The acceptance of the draft constitution comes after almost ten years of continued political and military instability that began with the Tutsi-led insurgency in October 1996 that brought the fall of one of the most prominent leaders of contemporary African history, Mobutu Sese Seko, and subsequently gave power to Laurent Kabila. Then, in August 1998, the conflict exploded with the deployment of troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Whereas for many years the conflict in the eastern regions had been limited to the presence of regular armies and militias from neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, the involvement of more African actors gave a continental dimension to the "quagmire."

The inter-Congolese accord signed in Pretoria on December 17, 2002 established the ruling principles and the directives for a transitional process to take place. The first part of the comprehensive plan culminated in the inauguration of the transitional government in June 2003, led by Joseph Kabila -- son of the former President Laurent Kabila who was assassinated in January 2001 -- that within two years should have organized and guaranteed presidential and parliamentary elections. The elections were repeatedly postponed and now they have been set for the period between the end of April and the beginning of June 2006, while local elections are scheduled for March and April.

Even though the transitional government encountered significant difficulties during the past two years, it was able to widely implement the inter-Congolese agreement that, together with the elaboration of key laws and the initial reintegration of the Congolese armed forces, put in place a draft constitution that set up new institutions. The successful constitutional referendum in December 2005 was a final legitimizing factor.

The referendum was considered a test to see whether general elections could take place in a successful way (former Zaire and the D.R.C. have not held an independent election in over 40 years), and the outcome has generally been deemed positive. Despite the huge difficulties in organizing and participating in the vote, nearly 25 million Congolese were registered and half of them went to the poll stations. The E.U. and other international observers said the referendum was free and fair. Additionally, the threat of violence and armed attacks from the bands of militiamen was limited and did not affect the regularity of the operations.

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