Congo's Kabila revises Constitution: presidential candidates now only need a plurality
Congolese President Joseph Kabila altered Congo's election laws, eliminating the run-off system and allowing the candidate with a plurality to claim the presidency.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
President Kabila’s successful effort to revise the electoral law in the Congolese constitution last week sparked controversy, prompting opposition and human rights groups to warn that the changes are a threat to national unity. Kabila’s controversial move marks the start of what is likely to be a tumultuous period leading up to the vote in November 2011 and underscores the need for international attention and involvement.Skip to next paragraph
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Congo’s constitution is the product of peace talks in Sun City, South Africa in 2002 and a constitutional review process underway since in 2006. Referencing the Sun City talks, Vital Kamerhe, former Congolese National Assembly president and now president of the opposition party the Union for the Congolese Nation, said, “We were in war and we battled hard with the help of regional leaders and the international community, and we were able to reconcile. Only four years after the first mandate, one can’t just decide the constitution review without taking the risk of compromising the national unity.”
The constitutional changes enacted by Kabila eliminate the multi-round run-off vote system used during the 2006 elections. Under the new procedure, the candidate with the largest percentage of votes – even if that proportion is less than 50 percent – would win the seat.
Cardinal Laurent Mosengo Pasinnya, president of the Episcopal Conference of Congo, spoke for many when he voiced disapproval of President Kabila’s proposal. Cardinal Pasinnya noted that a president elected with only 20 percent of the votes would not be at all representative of all Congolese people. Human rights group Voice of the Voiceless highlighted the potentially destabilizing nature of a process that fails to rally all ethnic strata if a president is elected after just one round of voting.
Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende Omalanga sought to justify Kabila’s decision. “We experimented in the 2006 presidential election by direct votes in two rounds, and we found that it is not in the interests of our people in terms of economic, political, and security viewpoints,” Mende said. “Economically, it is obvious that the best interests of the Congolese people lies in the pattern of an electoral system that is the least expensive. We are a poor country, a country in debt, a country under reconstruction, and a country that is fragile, we need to share the meager resources we have among all the people’s needs,” he said.
This year’s elections are estimated to cost roughly $700 million in contrast to those of 2006, which cost $500 million and were funded with over 90 percent contribution from the international community. Thus far, the international community has only donated $90 million to the 2011 process. Joseph Kabila said the Congolese people would be able to save $350 million through a one round presidential election, as the government struggles to raise international contributions.