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