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Rd Congo – Kabila aims at controversial third term

There are strong indications that Kabila intends to amend the constitution in order to remain in office for a third term. But such plans are controversial. The main churches, civil society organisations and opposition disagree.

There are lots of indications that President Joseph Kabila Kabange is planning to run for a third term while trying not to antagonize too much the opposition, the Roman Catholic Church, the protestant Church of Christ in Congo and other civil society organizations. The National Assembly speaker, Aubin Minaku said on the 20 March that Kabila would respect the constitution which stipulates in its Article 70 that he cannot complete more than two presidential mandates. But the former speaker of the National Assembly, Evariste Boshab is suggesting that Article 220 which stipulates that the duration of the presidential mandates cannot be subject to a constitutional change, can be removed either by a vote of two thirds of the MPs and the Senators, assembled in the Congress, or by a national referendum. The Secretary General of Joseph Kabila’s People’s Party for the Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), Claude Mashala has recently launched a petition for a new constitution in order to enable ‘Kabila to continue his work’.

In any case, President Kabila himself is giving implicitly indications that he is ready for a third term. Indeed, he has declared on several occasions that he has not appointed a successor and that he won’t appoint one. During a large gathering which took place at his Kingakati farm, at 80 km from Kinshasa, presidential majority politicians, discussed the scenario to hold a referendum which would not only amend the constitution to that effect but also replace the direct election of provincial MPs with an indirect vote by elected local authorities. There are also speculations that the presidential election could be postponed after the national census which would take place in 2016. Indeed, the president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the Roman Catholic Father Apollinaire Malu Malu, suggests that a reliable census may take time to be carried out. Moreover, the Secretary General of Joseph Kabila’s Party considers that it is ‘technically impossible’ to organise the presidential election in 2016, since this census must take place beforehand.

Since according Article 70, the outgoing President remains in office until his successor is sworn in, this means that President Kabila is likely to remain some more time in office after the expiration of his mandate in December 2016. Such scenario would not be an exception in DRC politics. The mandate of the Senators and of the provincial MPs has already expired in 2012. In fact, the entire democratic legitimacy of the system is at stake.

The opposition MP Felix Tshisekedi from the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP), led by his father, the veteran Etienne Tshisekedi says Kabila is trying to stay in office at least until President Barrack Obama’s successor gets sworn in, in January 2017, because he expects the next President to take a softer line over the third term issue. Accordingly, Kabila is perfectly aware of the Obama administration’s disapproval expressed last March by the US Envoy in the Great Lakes, Russ Feingold who told Radio France Internationale that constitutional change was not good if the purpose was to keep in power those who already hold it. The warning was again repeated by the US Secretary of State; John Kerry to President Kabila in early May and later on by Belgium. Kabila’s intentions have also sparked lots of hostile reactions from the opposition. The leader of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), Vital Kamerhe warned against a ‘constitutional coup’ and is particularly concerned by the plans to replace universal suffrage by an indirect election by congressmen.

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Even, some members of the presidential majority are reluctant to a constitutional change. One of Kabila’s allies, Former Minister of Planning, Olivier Kamitatu Etsu, reminds that the constitution was approved by referendum in 2006 by 85 percent of the voters and that there is no question to remove Article 220.

Meanwhile, opponents are given a hard time. Kamerhe himself has met serious problems to move around the country. In February, his aircraft was not allowed to take off from Kinshasa to Goma, at the Eastern end of the country, where he wanted to organise a march for peace. And in March, when he eventually managed to travel to Kivu, Congo Airways aircraft that had to pick up Kamerhe in Eastern Congo to bring him back to Kinshasa, as a bad coincidence, did not turn up, officially because of a breakdown.

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Other opponents and critics face more serious problems. Eugene Diomi, the leader of the Christian Democracy party and Tshisekedi’s ally was sentenced to 10 years prison for the alleged rape of two minor girls. But his counsels deny the charge and the fact they were under 18 and stress the lack of respect of procedures and deny. In the view of his supporters, Diomi has been targeted in order to intimidate other opponents. And those who try to defend him face the consequences. Desire-Israel Kazadi, the director of the Freedom for Journalists association, was stopped by four armed men in plain clothes on the last 15 March while he was driving on the main avenue of Kinshasa, the 30 June Boulevard. A gun was pointed at him and the thugs started punching him while shouting that they didn’t like the way he had reported over the Diomi case, wrote the Potentiel daily.

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On the last 19 April, in the context of the amnesty declared on the 11 February, the DRC government started to release prisoners who were sentenced for being members of armed groups or because they allegedly committed ‘political offenses’ between 2006 and 2013. By end April, 150 people were released including fighters from the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels, from General Faustin Munene’s ArmÈe de resistance populaire, from a group of supporters of the Mobutu’s security chief, Honorè Ngbanda aka ´’Terminator’, from the Bundu dia Kongo political religious sect, from the Bakata Katanga secessionists and from six other groups.. A total of 300 people should benefit from the measure. But in Kinshasa, some still complain that ‘genuine political prisoners’ such as EugËne Ndiomi still remain in prison.

François Misser

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