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Congo election season in full swing, along with electoral problems

The Congo election season is fully underway, but voter registration fraud, delays in the legislative elections, and vote buying are just a few of things disrupting the election.

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First, Kabila's representatives have been considerable large amounts of money and gifts in the east. In South Kivu, Minister of Agriculture Norbert Katintima has been responsible for much of this, handing out money, T-shirts, hats, and other gifts to people who attend rallies. Katintima's involvement has spurred deep cynicism among Congolese, not only because people may vote based on hand-outs, but because Katintima was the deeply unpopular RCD governor of South Kivu between 1999 and 2002 who appears to been able to buy back at least a meager popularity through money and stature. Some of the people I spoke with suggested that these gifts will create a pact of allegiance between their recipients and Kabila's candidacy that will allow the incumbent to win a substantial number of votes in the east.

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This is the first part of the electoral puzzle: Will the distribution of money and gifts allow Kabila to secure votes? This is, of course, a question that has long preoccupied political scientists elsewhere – Sue Stokes, for example, has showed that vote buying coupled with extensive party networks (party operatives monitor their "clients'" behavior and try to make sure they don't take the money/favors and vote for someone else) has worked in Argentina.

The second part of the puzzle has to do with another way of buying votes. Instead of targeting voters themselves, you target key members of the community: customary chiefs, priests, NGOs, and other leaders. In South Kivu, for example, President Kabila has obtained the support of many key customary chiefs: Mwami Ndatabaye (Ngweshe chief), Mwamikazi Naluhwindja (Luhwindja chief), Mwami Idjwi South and several others (I think both Mwami Kabare and Mwami Kalehe). But in these cases, it is far from clear how strong the sway of any of these leaders is. Many of the customary chiefs have been strongly contested – through succession disputes, erosion of their authority over land, or affiliation with political parties – by the population, and may have a hard time convincing their communities to vote with them. And while some communities are traditionally very hierarchically structured (the Bashi or Bahavu, for example), others are much more decentralized and do not have overall chiefs (the Bembe, Tembo, Rega or Nyanga, for example). Hence, the second question: To what extent can leaders influence the way the population votes? Of course, a corollary of this question is how many leaders Kabila can sway. Of course, he has a huge advantage in terms of campaign funding.

The third, and perhaps most important question pertains to rigging. To what extent will Kabila (or other candidates) rig the vote? There are two main ways of rigging: on election day and before election day. Pre-electoral rigging can happen through:

  • Skewing the voter registration process, by setting up more registration centers in some places, or by registering ghosts/children/foreigners
  • Using state resources, including TV and radio stations, but also the security apparatus to favor your candidacy and the repress opponents;
  • Making sure the election commission is staffed by people close to you;

While election day rigging can happen by:

  • Preventing people from voting in certain areas;
  • Paying people to vote a certain way;
  • Stuffing ballot boxes with fake ballots, either during the vote or after the vote has been finished;
  • Toying with the election results in the computers;
  • Using the judicial apparatus to prevent impartial arbitration of election abuses.

I am sure I have left out some other ways of rigging. I would say that several of the rigging options of the first list (pre-electoral) have already been used, although it is unclear to what extent. Here, the key will be a rigorous audit of the voter lists, which will require time and good organization, as parties would probably have to do this at a very local level (who but local officials could know if a registered voter is a child or dead?)
As for the second list, I am not yet persuaded that political parties and civil society have assembled a strong enough monitoring mechanism, with observers in every voting center to observe the voting and tallying of ballots. That is another imperative.

Jason Stearns blogs about the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region at Congo Siasa.

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