DRC: Voice of the people was heard
In January 2015, two years ahead of the end of his last term, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila, wanted to change the electoral law. The goal was to make a third term possible for the president. The attempt was strongly opposed by civil society, the political opposition and the international community.
DRC is a young democracy
The DRC is still a young democracy. The constitution was passed in 2005 and it provides for an electoral term of 5 years renewable once for the president of the republic.
The current president Joseph Kabila came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila. Joseph Kabila won the elections for the first time in 2006 and in 2011 for the second time. Both elections were marked by many irregularities which led to conflicts and serious violations of human rights.
Meanwhile, the social conditions of the majority of the population have not improved. More than 71 per cent of the Congolese population continues to languish in poverty and women's representation in decision-making bodies remains low despite the parity advocated by the supreme law.
Two years from the end of Joseph Kabila's presidency, the ruling majority including PPRD, the Kabila' party was trying to make the amendment of the constitution to allow him to get a third term. This attempt was strongly opposed by civil society, the political opposition and the international community.
Made changes in the electoral law
In the beginning of 2015, the presidential majority changed strategy (as they wanted to change some articles inside the actual constitution) and instead changed the electoral law. The new bill stated that the presidential election would be conditioned by a general census of the Congolese population. Such a census could take 4 years or more, according to the spokesman of the government.
The political opposition and civil society considered this change in the electoral law to be nothing but a way to extend the mandate of president Kabila. Despite protests, the bill was passed in the National Assembly on 17 January 2015.
A week of public protests
The population responded massively to the slogan of the political opposition to express its disapproval. 19 to 23 January 2015 was a "dead week" in the capital Kinshasa, people did not go to work and schools remained closed. These events aimed at refusing to extend the mandate of Joseph Kabila were observed in 7 provinces (out of 11 existing), namely Kinshasa, North Kivu, South Kivu, Equateur, Kasai Oriental, Katanga and Bas-Congo
Demonstrations were violently repressed by police and soldiers, resulting in at least 42 dead, several injuries, kidnappings and arrests. In addition to the violent repression, internet was cut off as well as radio and television networks of the opposition and the Catholic church and also the possibility to use SMS etc. As of today, only the internet connection has been partially reestablished.
Parallel to the public protests, the EU, US, African Union, MONUSCO and Catholic Church were putting pressure on the government to respect the will of the people and the constitution.
Changes in the electoral law removed
On Friday 23rd of January 2015 the senators analyzed the changes in the electoral law and removed the recently added census conditionality and insisted that the elections should be held in accordance with the deadline in the constitution, meaning no later than 2016. This was later confirmed by the speaker of the national assembly.
The senators also guaranteed women's representation through this law but civil society organizations are still demanding clear binding measures.
Voters' education is a challenge
The challenges that remain is for civil society in the DRC to build people's knowledge and raise awareness of the demands on an electoral process that guarantee free and fair elections.
Several Diakonia partner organizations, among them RECIC, ANMDH, RODHECIC, Groupe Jeremie and AFEM will intensify their work with civic and voters’ education. Another big challenge that still remains is the one to publish a global and consensual calendar of the elections.