By Francois Conradie, Head of Research, NKC African Economics
On Sunday, December 23, Congolese vote in a set of elections that have been delayed for two years and have been one of the most important drivers of political risk in the country for the last three.
Three elections will be held on the same day: legislative, in which voters will elect the lower chamber of Parliament (National Assembly); provincial to pick the governments of the DRC’s 25 provinces (provincial governments elect the upper house of Parliament, the Senate); and presidential. The presidential election is by far the most important.
There are three main contenders in the presidential election: Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary of the Common Front for the Congo (FCC), Martin Fayulu of the Lamuka coalition, and Etienne Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).
The FCC is a new umbrella party created by President Joseph Kabila which includes his People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) and the wider Presidential Majority (MP) of which the PPRD is part. It is a formidable machine, and we see Mr Shadary as the very firm favourite to win.
Mr Fayulu has the backing of two other serious opposition heavyweights who have been prevented from running for the presidency, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, but no longer has the mandate to represent the wider opposition because of the actions of Mr Tshisekedi, the third man in the race, who reneged on a deal made in Geneva in November to back a single opposition candidate.
Mr Tshisekedi then made a deal with Vital Kamerhe, who also broke his commitment to the Geneva deal, to run as a team. In the pact Mr Kamerhe and his Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) will call on their supporters to vote for Mr Tshisekedi in the election and in return, should he win, Mr Tshisekedi will name Mr Kamerhe as his prime minister and has pledged to back a candidate from the UNC in the 2023 presidential election.
The split in the opposition, along with the advantages he enjoys as Mr Kabila’s chosen successor, means that we consider Mr Shadary virtually certain to win.But the government has not left the opposition to campaign in peace for all that.
Opposition sources say at least seven people have lost their lives in violence since the start of the campaign but counting together all the individual claimed numbers gives a higher total.
Most recently, on Wednesday, December 19, Mr Shadary cancelled a meeting in Tshikapa, in Kasai province, after people protested against his coming; one person was killed when soldiers, who came to support the police, opened fire on protesters. On Sunday, December 16, also in Tshikapa, there was a massive brawl between supporters of Mr Shadary and supporters of Mr Tshisekedi, who is popular in Kasai. One person died there, too, and as many as 80 were injured.The previous weekend, supporters of Mr Fayulu say they came under live fire from police in Lubumbashi; six people died. We expect more trouble at the weekend, and when results are announced.
Amessy polling process will tend to sharpen dissident energies, and there is every reason to expect a spectacular mess. With the best will in the world the election would have been a difficult operation to organise.
The logistical challenges are considerable given the vast distances and the lack of functioning infrastructure in the DRC. There will be 80,000 polling stations and 20,000 collation centres, in a country twice the size of South Africa but which has only 3,500km of paved roads. And Congolese authorities do not have the best will in the world.
The Independent National Electoral Centre (Ceni) is widely considered by the opposition and civil society (including the influential Catholic clergy) to be beholden to Mr Kabila, and so to be actively engineering a win for Mr Shadary.
In the night of Wednesday, December 12, a fire destroyed almost 8,000 voting machines in a Ceni warehouse in Kinshasa. There has been speculation that the incident would result in a delay to the election, but the Ceni’s controversial chairman, Corneille Nangaa, has expressed his commitment to holding the election on time.
FCC sources have accused Mr Fayulu of being behind the fire; he is opposed to the use of the Korean voting machines, such as those destroyed in the fire, as he(and many others) say they could be used to rig the vote.
Mr Shadary will win the election amid serious doubts about its legitimacy. Supporters of Mr Fayulu and Mr Tshisekedi will protest. Some of those protesting will be killed. Some images of the violence will make international news, but the result of the election will end up being accepted in the DRC, if not in Europe (where Mr Shadary is still under sanctions).
The system that Mr Kabila has set up will remain in place, with some slight shifts as room is made for new players. Mr Kabila himself will remain a force in Congolese politics, probably as a senator, and may even become president again in 2023: there has been speculation that he plans to work around term limits in the same way as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, by making room for a one-term puppet successor before coming back to power.
However,overall risk is lower than it was a year ago, mainly because Mr Kabila is not running again, and we see the risk of war as lower than it was.
But the authority vacuum resulting from Mr Kabila’s efforts to repress the opposition has resulted in an increase in militia violence in peripheral areas,and this kind of violence should be expected to continue.