The electoral commission has published the list of candidates for the legislative elections, which are scheduled to be held on Nov. 28, along with the presidential election. The legislative election is particularly important in the Congo, as the prime minister is named by the largest coalition in parliament, and then forms a cabinet to deal with the day-to-day business of governing. (That's the theory, at least – in this government, the presidency has wielded far greater power.)
There are 19,000 candidates for the 500 seats in the national assembly. This means the legislative battle will be more competitive than in 2006, when there were considerably fewer candidates. In some districts, like Tshangu in Kinshasa, there are a hundred candidates for every seat.
I have done a very superficial analysis of five of the major parties contending elections: MLC, PPRD, UFC, UNC and UDPS. I admit that other parties are also extremely important – MSR and PALU, for example – but I will leave those for another day. If I did not miscount, here is a list of how many candidates each party registered for the 500 seats:
- MLC (Bemba): 237
- PPRD (Kabila): 545
- UDPS (Tshisekedi): 377
- UFC (Kengo): 334
- UNC (Kamerhe): 450
I should emphasize that these numbers don't mean much – if a party is unpopular, then even by multiplying the number of candidates they won't get more seats. Nonetheless, there are several observations we can make.
First, the PPRD has the largest pool of candidates. This is probably a sign of their deep pockets, but they are also the only party of these five (other than the MLC, which has been weakened by infighting) that contended the last elections and has been present in the field since then, if only by virtue of the fact that the are in power. However, in some areas they have submitted over double the number of candidates as there seats in the district – this could be a sign of poor organization, as the party will be wasting resources by overloading candidates.
Secondly, it is very probable that we will see a change in the lead opposition party. Even if Kabila's coalition wins again, the MLC appears to have been deeply weakened by Bemba's absence and the splintering of the party over the past several years. They were only able to table one candidate for every two seats, an indication of a lack of funds and organization – one of their officials told me that they had even had trouble raising the funds necessary for registering their legislative candidates (I think something like $60,000).
The new opposition parties have been mobilizing very effectively. In particular, the UNC, which was launched less than a year ago, has been able to put forward candidates for over 85 percent of the seats in the national assembly, an impressive feat that also indicates that they have been able to raise significant funds. The UDPS is strong, but lacks candidates in many areas in the East. Again, none of this is an indication of how many seats they will win, and some of suggested that the UNC has expanded too fast, allowing to many opportunists into the party, while the UDPS has been more selective in its candidates.