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Africa

DRC election delay: 'Violence could escalate'

The move by DRC's Constitutional Court to approve a controversial request by the electoral commission to postpone November elections is seen by observers as problematic and likely to provoke violence in the country.

The usually busy streets of DR Congo's capital Kinshasa were nearly empty on Wednesday in response to a general strike called by the opposition to force President Joseph Kabila to step down in December.

Earlier in the week DRC's Constitutional Court President Benoit Lwamba Bindu said they recognized that there were technical problems associated with the elections  and he authorized what he called a "reasonable delay" that would allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in office until a new leader is elected. 

For an analysis of the significance of this move, DW turned to political analyst Phil Clark from SOAS at the University of London.

DW: The court said that President Joseph Kabila can stay in office until a new leader is elected. Can one argue that this decision is devoid of political interference?

Clark: History suggests that the electoral commission in Congo is an extremely politicised institution so I think most Congolese are interpreting this latest decision by the commission and the Congolese court as those institutions doing President Kabila´s bidding. This does look like another attempt by President Kabila to postpone these elections as long as possible. I think most Congolese interpret this as Kabila clinging to power as long as he possibly can and giving him enough time to rig the elections, whether they take place in 2017 or 2018. In the minds of most Congolese this looks like an extremely politicised decision.

Phil Clark

The situation in DR Congo is extremely tense, says Phil Clark

The main opposition part have criticized this decision and have also asked for direct involvement from the international community. At the same time they also called for a nationwide protest. Isn't this trouble in waiting because so far not much has been done by the United Nations?

Clark: The situation in Congo at the moment is extremely tense. We have seen that with the protests over the last year or so that the political opposition and their supporters are getting extremely frustrated with the election delays and  large numbers of protesters have already been out on the streets in almost all the major urban centers across Congo. What that has led to is a major crackdown against those protesters by the Congolese military and by the police force and I think that this latest delay to the elections is likely to escalate that situation even further. I think we are going to see more and more protests. I think we are going to see more and more calls by the opposition for international sanctions against the government. This crackdown against the opposition is likely to continue. The danger I think is that this could become an extremely volatile, even violent situation over the next six to twelve months.

You talked about international sanctions - the European Union has  issued an ultimatum and threaten to impose sanctions if the unrest does not end. How much damage can EU sanctions do to the Congolese economy and how much pressure will this put on President Kabila to back down?

This threat of sanctions could put some major pressure on Kabila as the EU is one of the major donors to Congo and if these sanctions were quite severe it could hit the economy hard. That would threaten not only the general population but also it  would also undermine some of the economic interests of Kabila and some of his inner sanctum. But it remains to be seen exactly what kind of sanctions the European Union is really talking about. At the moment this is just a threat about a possible future threat. It is not very clear for example by which date the EU expects the elections to be held. It is not clear exactly what type of sanctions the EU is threatening and most importantly it's not clear against whom they are threatening these sanctions. So the threat is quite a vague one at this stage and I think Kabila won´t be too worried yet about what the EU might do. However, we could see the EU escalate the situation in the coming months if they don't think that enough progress is been made on the electoral front. So it's a 'watch this space' situation.

DR Congo is prone to violence and unrest and the UN has a huge presence mostly in the eastern part of the country.  How much of an active role is it taking in resolving the political stalemate?

The UN is extremely limited in how much it can do in terms of the political situation in DRC. The UN and its peacekeeping mission MONUSCO has really got its hands full dealing with a wide range of conflict-related issues, especially in the east of the country. MONUSCO´s main mandate is to try to protect the civilian population from the very wide range of rebel groups that are operating in the east. In terms of the political stalemate at the moment, all  the UN has really been able to do until now is to observe a national political dialogue in Kinshasa over the last week. The UN seems to be quite fixed in only playing this observer role. I think it really sees the political stalemate as something that Kabila and the opposition will have to work out through the process of a dialogue. I think the UN is likely to take a step back and to rely very heavily on the political donors, particularly the US and the EU, to threaten sanctions and try to put political pressure on Kabila to hold these elections very soon. So I think that is the role the UN is going to pay. It will  It will focus particularly on peace keeping issues and the rebel groups in the east and it will probably leave the issue of political stalemate and ushering the country to elections to the major donors. It doesn't want to get too involved in that issue.

President Kabila has been dragging his feet on holding an election and he hasn't really come out to say he'll stand for a third term. but based on this political stalemate and failed national dialogue, does Kabila really intend to leave  office?

Everything at the moment is pointing to the fact that Kabila wants to stay in office. I think he's delibarately delaying this election as long as possible. that enables him not only to stay in power but also to rig the elections in his favor. I think all the statements he has made and all the mores by his government suggest that he is going nowhere fast. I think the political opposition in the country notice that as well. They recognize that all the machinery of the state is being put at the disposal of Kabila´s attempt to remain in power and contest the next elections. the fear of the opposition is that if Kabila runs at the next elections , then it may be impossible to ever budge him. They see this as the key opportunity to try and get him out of the way - so I thin k everybody in Congo is very worried about Kabila's plans.

Phil Clark is a lecturer in political science from SOAS, at the University of London.

Interview: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh

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