Five years after the first democratic elections since 1960, the next ones – scheduled for November28 – may not necessarily stabilize the country. The electoral campaign started with clashes between supporters of the 79 years old opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila’s militants. The premises of Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) in the Kalamu suburb were damaged on September 5 during clashes with a crowd of Tshisekedi supporters. During the night, the headquarters of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP) and of an opposition Radio station were set on fire. And on September 6, a UDSP militant was killed and two of his comrades were injured, during new incidents with PPRD supporters. The governor of Kinshasa prohibited new demonstrations but the situation remains volatile.
The incumbent, the uncharismatic Joseph Kabila, stands good chances to win the race – owing to divisions within the opposition – with a narrow margin but certainly not with an absolute majority. Like in 2006 and even more so, Kabila risks scoring well under 50% in the Western part of the country, and might be forced to forge alliances to retain a majority in parliament.
Joseph Kabila scored a good point last January when he managed to get the parliament to amend the electoral law. Under the new rules, there will be only one round for the presidential election and he needs to get a simple majority to win. That makes the task much easier for him. But Joseph Kabila boasts other advantages, including the control of the state apparatus and of its financial means. Besides, the head of state has been busy campaigning for more than a year, trying to profile himself as the country’s ‘construction work manager’, visiting for instance the Inga and Zongo dams at the end of August, even if the government has not always been able to meet all the Congolese’s expectations, particularly in Kinshasa, where power cuts have become the rule rather than the exception. At the same time, a number of roads and bridges have been rehabilitated or built in Bas-Congo, in Katanga and even in the troubled North Kivu province. Unlike his competitors, Kabila will be able to present a record of work done and benefit from substantial financial means, although their origin is sometimes obscure.
Opposition MPs such as Modeste Bahati or Fid’le Babala have protested against the sale of government shares to foreign partners in gold and copper mining project, both in the Eastern Province and in Katanga, at give-away prices. Yet, Kabila and his PPRD party’s advantage on the financial front may be decisive since the presidential and parliament elections race will most probably take longer than expected and may only happen in mid-January, diplomatic sources in Kinshasa say. Part of the explanation is that there have been important delays in the procurement and the transport of electoral kits and material, from South Africa, Europe and China. In other words, the candidates only know when the campaign will start but don’t have an idea of the final date. In such conditions, time should play in favour of the richest. At the same time, a postponement of the voting beyond the scheduled 28 November is likely to trigger new unrest. Indeed, Tshisekedi has already warned that he will not recognize Kabila’s legitimacy beyond the anniversary of the latter’s swearing ceremony, on the 6 December 2011. Moreover, the UDSP has refused so far to sign the code of conduct set by the Independent National Electoral Commission on the grounds that UDSP militants are still in jail.
Yet, Kabila has also its weaknesses. Unlike in 2006, when he got the overwhelming support of the East, in proportions ranging between 79.5% in the Eastern province to 98.3% in South Kivu, the incumbent may have to pay the price of the unability of the Congolese army and of the UN troops to restore security in these areas. Former collaborators who became his rivals such as the former speaker of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe or the former Decentralisation Minister Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, may deprive Kabila of much needed votes.
Nevertheless, the opposition is not likely to reap the benefits of Kabila’s weaknesses. Jean-Pierre Bemba, the main candidate of the opposition in 2006, will not be able to run. Bemba is being prosecuted at The Hague for alleged atrocities committed by his troops in 2002 and 2003 in the Central African Republic. The International Criminal Court rejected Bemba’s request to obtain a temporary permission to leave The Hague prison and register as a candidate. Bemba absence should have fostered unity among the opposition. Instead, Tshisekedi ignored attempts of Kamerhe and other politicians to present a single candidate for the opposition, after they agreed on a joint program of government insisting on good governance, fair distribution of revenues and tolerance. Eventually, all candidates decided to run separately including Kamerhe. He does still hope that they can negotiate and find consensus on one candidate. However, Tshisekedi would only endorse a deal if he gets an unconditional support from the others.
After a successful tour he made last August in Katanga, UDSP supporters believe he cannot but win and are likely to consider any other result as the product of rigging. Since there is no guaranteed that events will occur the way the UDSP wishes, this increases the risk of troubles after the elections. FranÁois Nzanga Mobutu, son of the late dictator and former Minister of Employment, is also running, which may reduce the chances of rival opposition candidates in his home Equator province.