No end in sight to DRC post-election crisis
Is this the calm before the storm?
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is currently facing a major post-election crisis and urgent action is required at the national and international levels to prevent the whole country from gradually sinking into chaos.At least 24 people have been killed and dozens arbitrarily detained since the publication of the provisional results of the November 28th Presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Cases of abduction and harassment targeting the opposition or people alleged to be members of the opposition have been reported in Kinshasa and in several other provinces.The exercise of certain fundamental rights and freedoms – such as the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, free movement of goods and people, the right to life, the right to information and protection of physical integrity – has been systematically violated by the police in order to stifle any attempt to protest against the controversial results of the elections.According to the interim results that were published by INEC on December 9th and confirmed several days later by the Supreme Court of Justice, President Joseph Kabila won with 48.95% of the vote. His main rival, Etienne Tshisekedi, received 32.33% of the vote, who immediately challenged the results and later declared himself the head of the Republic.The publication of provisional results of the parliamentary elections has not gone any better, having already been challenged numerous times by candidates of both the ruling party and the opposition.Numerous observer missions, including the Carter Center, the Election Observation Mission of the European Union (EU-MO) and RENOCEC, have declared that the conduct of presidential and legislative elections was marred by significant irregularities and attempted cheating, planned or not, in several constituencies. Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo commented on the preliminary results at a press briefing, saying that they were not "...consistent with either truth or justice."On December 3rd, the National Episcopal Commission of the Congo, which deployed around 30,000 observers, invited the INEC to comply with ‘the truth as expressed in polls and posted at polling stations’. Several Congolese civil society organizations, including La Voix des sans Voix (VSV), one of the most important and oldest Congolese human rights organizations, have already called for the cancellation of the polls.In the face of this national and international outcry, INEC suspended the compilation of results of the legislative elections on December 21st – ‘pending the arrival of the monitoring teams and international technical support’. However, just six days later, INEC confirmed the resumption of the compilation of the results before the arrival of the international experts. Speaking on this subject, the INEC President, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, said that “INEC did not request assistance. We received an offer from the international community that we accepted in good faith.”On January 4th, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs announced that they were sending a mission of experts whose aim was to ‘discern whether it is possible to verify the election results through a broader review of the processes and to offer advice about what shape such an effort might take. It is not designed to assist the electoral authorities in tabulating results of legislative races’.This mission seems to have received very little cooperation from the INEC, which deployed its own officers in the provinces to investigate irregularities. Originally scheduled to last three weeks, the mission was abruptly halted on January 13th without any explanation for their early departure.While fears about serious post-election violence have not been realised, serious threats to peace are likely to intensify if corrective action is not taken urgently.Already, the bishops of Kinshasa have called openly for civil disobedience with the Church later calling for ‘courage of the truth’. A schedule of protest actions has already been drawn up and could spread to the other provinces. Momentum is gradually building and will culminate with protests on February 16th – 20 years after troops loyal to former dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, violently suppressed another march by protesting Christians.Meanwhile, the UDPS is resolute in its position that it won the elections. Since the publication of the results, Etienne Tshisekedi’s residence has been surrounded by a ring of police officers, limiting his freedom of movement, and contact with the public. Even so, on January 20th, Tshisekedi held a press conference during which he announced that he had “officially taken office as head of state elected by the people.” He also announced the cancellation of the legislative elections as well as the formation of his government the following week.The other three unsuccessful presidential candidates – Leon Kengo wa Dondo, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi and Adam Bombole – invited Kabila to convene a roundtable before the publication of provisional results to create a mechanism for the reorganization of the INEC and establish a new electoral calendar. No official response to this request was received. And nor did it gain the approval of the UPDS, which has clearly indicated its opposition to any initiative that would tarnish the election results and could lead to the establishment of a government of national unity.