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DR Congo vote watchdogs ‘weak’, study warns

Kabila talks to a campaign crowd recently

Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP | The Democratic Republic of Congo presidency has undue influence over two bodies tasked with overseeing elections, a research group said Thursday, warning the country risked “a new cycle of conflict”.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and Constitutional Court have been subject to “politicisation”, said the report by the Study Group on Congo (GEC), based at New York University.

Both bodies are “disputed” and their members “accused of bias”, it warned less than two months before presidential, legislative, and provincial elections in the DR Congo on December 23.

“These accusations, together with the lack of consensus within the political class and the popular protests that may ensue, risk plunging the DRC into a new cycle of conflict,” the study authors wrote.

In power since 2001, President Joseph Kabila’s constitutional term expired in December 2016, but a deal was struck to avoid bloodshed that allowed him to stay in office provided elections for a new president were held in 2017.

But authorities repeatedly postponed the ballot, citing logistical problems.

Twenty-one candidates, including a Kabila-backed former interior minister, will take part in the December presidential contest.

The new study blamed the “weakness” of electoral watchdogs on “the ability of the presidency to control, co-opt, or divide the different political and social forces that should serve as a counterweight: the opposition, civil society, and professional organisations such as the High Judges Council.

“This dominance of institutions responsible for ensuring the transparency of the electoral process renders the legal safeguards governing these institutions almost ineffective,” said the report.

Most members of the CENI and Constitutional court “display an affinity” with Kabila’s governing coalition, it added.

It was therefore “essential that counterweights be set up outside official institutions. In particular, national and international observation missions should be deployed, political party witnesses should be mobilised, and journalists should be allowed to do their work.

“It is also important that the United Nations mission in the Congo and the international community closely monitor these elections,” said the report.

But government spokesman Jean-Pierre Kambila said the accusations “aim to prepare the ground for those who want to boycott the elections. There are coordinated actions to prevent the elections from taking place.”

The opposition as a whole has said it will not boycott the elections, but want independent oversight.

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