The dangers of a hasty Congo election

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been the target of criticism in recent weeks with editorials in major newspapers calling on our president to step down. A resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives is demanding the same thing and congressional hearings are scheduled soon. A cursory reading of the DRC Constitution would suggest that the president should step aside, but that’s too simple and, in fact, dangerous.

Congo does not have a history of smooth transitions of power. In fact, quite the opposite. That’s why a national dialogue that included opposition parties recently agreed that presidential elections will be held, but not this year. Time is needed to create circumstances that would allow a new president to take charge peacefully, for a change.

While the president’s second elected term ends Jan. 19, the constitution states and a court interpretation has affirmed that a successor should be elected before the incumbent steps down. That is why the DRC has created a bridge mechanism, including an interim government, which is being formed now from a range of political parties with the interim prime minister coming from the opposition.

In 2006, the DRC held its first, widely praised national election in four decades. This was in large part possible because, three years prior, President Joseph Kabila was able to end a decade of bloody conflict that had claimed the lives of 5 million Congolese.

Another election was supposed to be held this year. But if elections were held this month as the original calendar projected, more than one-half of Congolese, especially young people, would be disenfranchised because the voter rolls are so out of date.

the-dangers-of-a-hasty-congo-electionSo the government is working to organize inclusive and fair elections. That means getting the rolls up to date. The government also wants to improve security. While small-scale, foreign-backed rebel activity continues in eastern Congo, making the peace is fragile. More work can be done there as well.

The interim government is a first step. We have the urgent obligation to implement a budget that protects millions of vulnerable Congolese, provides for defense in one of the most dangerous regions on earth and offers a fair and orderly resolution of our first constitutional crisis.

We’ll also hold elections as soon as we are able. The constitution promises the Congolese the right to local elections, which we have not yet been able to hold. Indeed, the next elections need to answer the question of who succeeds Kabila, as well as who will serve in parliament. That is the fairest route to ensuring that all voices are heard.

In the meantime, we urgently need all the help our friends in the international community can offer. The cost of holding an election is nearly a quarter of our national budget. From our friends in Europe and the United States, we would benefit from the same kind of moral support that we enjoy from our neighbors in the African Union, which shares out interest in a nonviolent transition. The DRC has already paid too high a price for the wars of other states.

To best ensure against violence, all sides in the DRC need to come together. The Herculean task of registering more than 50 million voters should be completed by July of next year. In anticipation of that landmark, we’re preparing new electoral legislation.

Expecting Mr. Kabila to leave office in December is neither realistic nor fair. We’ve suffered from disorder and inconsistent policies in the past. Today we need help in achieving a transition that serves our national interests as well as the broader security of Central Africa. When it comes to elections in the DRC, patience would indeed be a virtue for everyone to follow.

Lambert Mende is the minister of communications for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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