Ka­bila’s vote de­lay alarms Con­golese as pro­test­ers call for new leader

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY TONNY ONYULO

KINSHASA, CONGO | In the pro-op­po­si­tion neigh­bor­hood of Limete, hun­dreds gath­ered in front of a small metal stage in a sprawl­ing mar­ket­place to talk about the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in this Cen­tral African coun­try.

On the stage was Alexis Karl, 35, hold­ing a piece of a bro­ken bill­board that bore the face of Joseph Ka­bila, the Con­golese pres­i­dent since 2001.

“What does he re­ally want?” Mr. Karl asked. “We are not go­ing to ac­cept dic­ta­tors in this coun­try.”

A wave of vi­o­lent clashes be­tween po­lice and pro­test­ers has erupted since Mr. Ka­bila an­nounced in Septem­ber that he would not step down next month at the end of his sec­ond term.

Fifty-three pro­test­ers have died from what crit­ics say is ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment force to quell demon­stra­tions. More than 143 have been in­jured, and about 300 have been un­law­fully ar­rested and im­pris­oned, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions and hu­man rights groups.

“The pres­i­dent is plot­ting to cling on to power by de­lay­ing the elec­tion,” said Mr. Karl said, re­fer­ring to a vote that had been sched­uled for Nov. 27 but that the gov­ern­ment wants to put off un­til at least April 2018. “But we will not ac­cept that. We are ready to sac­ri­fice our lives.” The crowd erupted in cheers. The coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion bars Mr. Ka­bila, 45, from run­ning for a third term.

The Con­golese pres­i­dent, in of­fice since Jan­uary 2001 af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of his father, Lau­rent, is one of a grow­ing num­ber of African lead­ers who have al­tered or flouted elec­toral laws and vo­cal crit­ics to stay in power.

Mr. Ka­bila has jus­ti­fied the de­layed vote by ar­gu­ing that au­thor­i­ties can’t hold an elec­tion right now be­cause of lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems.

In a move to en­sure he stays in power past the end of his sec­ond term, Mr. Ka­bila’s rul­ing party and some op­po­si­tion par­ties have ham­mered out a deal that would de­lay elec­tions un­til April 2018. The coun­try’s main op­po­si­tion par­ties re­jected the deal and called for more protests.

“The deal cur­rently rep­re­sents the only road map put in place by the Con­golese them­selves,” Mr. Ka­bila said dur­ing a de­fi­ant speech in par­lia­ment this month. “It’s the deal that will calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sion in the coun­try.”

Last week, Mr. Ka­bila ap­pointed Samy Badibanga, a mem­ber of a mi­nor op­po­si­tion party, as prime min­is­ter un­der a power-shar­ing deal that ef­fec­tively ex­tends his term in of­fice.

Al­though other op­po­si­tion par­ties ques­tioned the move, U.N. Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon and African Union lead­ers said the ar­range­ment at least paved the way for a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity that could curb vi­o­lence in the coun­try.

“The Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral wel­comes this first con­crete step in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the po­lit­i­cal agree­ment, which is ex­pected to cul­mi­nate in the hold­ing of cred­i­ble elec­tions in the coun­try,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman said in a state­ment.

Street protests

De­spite Mr. Ban’s ef­forts to ease ten­sions, thou­sands of pro­test­ers have been pour­ing into the streets and de­mand­ing that Mr. Ka­bila step down. Se­cu­rity forces have been fir­ing tear gas to dis­perse pro­test­ers from the main roads in the cap­i­tal. Po­lice also have been ac­cused of us­ing live am­mu­ni­tion.

“The U.N. should not en­cour­age Pres­i­dent Ka­bila to con­tinue stay­ing in power, but in­stead they should ad­vise him to step aside and al­low for a free and fair elec­tion,” said Grace Laure, who owns a ho­tel in Limete. “We need peace in our coun­try, not vi­o­lence be­cause of an in­di­vid­ual.”

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers and Con­golese an­a­lysts also har­bor grave doubts that the new prime min­is­ter can or­ga­nize free and fair elec­tions or heal the coun­try’s deep po­lit­i­cal di­vide.

“Badibanga’s ap­point­ment does not solve the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in any way,” Jean-Marc Kabund-a-Kabund, sec­re­tary­gen­eral of the Union of Democ­racy and So­cial Progress, an um­brella group for the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion par­ties, told the Ger­man news ser­vice Deutsche Welle. “We need a com­pre­hen­sive di­a­logue that leads to a so­lu­tion that ev­ery­one ac­cepts.”


Con­golese Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila is barred from serv­ing a third term, but a deal to de­lay elec­tions en­sures he will re­main in power un­til April 2018.

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