Congo opposition supporters protest what appear to be
fraudulent ballots – badly printed photocopies of
election ballots found in Kinshasa.
Election ballots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can look
more like the weekend edition of a newspaper than the single folded sheet of
paper common the United States.
Congolese electoral laws allow
a nearly unlimited number of candidates to run for parliament. In the coming
election, now pushed to 2019, there may be as many as 28,000 candidates, each
one with their name and photo printed in a ballot.
The expense and logistical
difficulties of printing and distributing 45 million of these massive ballots
are nearly insurmountable. After they’re printed, ballots must be trucked or
flown to 126,000 polling stations around the country. The electoral commission
has yet to acquire the necessary funds, and the voter registry isn’t complete.
Or at least, these are some of
the official reasons given for why Congo will not be holding elections for
another year and a half, according to a source familiar with the election
process who requested not to be named.
“In 2006, we got huge support
from the [United Nations]. We used 108 aircraft supported by the U.N. But today
there is none,” the source told Foreign Policy in
an interview in Washington, D.C. “The budget is around $600 million. Who is
going to fund [this]?”
Presidential and parliamentary
elections were scheduled for December 2016, but those were delayed, with
President Joseph Kabila and the opposition coming to an agreement that
elections would be held in 2017. Even with the agreement, the election delay
has threatened a political crisis in the young Central African republic.
Kabila, who assumed office
after his father, President Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001, has
already completed two six-year terms — the maximum allowed under the
Opposition members claim that
the younger Kabila is trying to hold on to office until he can find a way to
change the constitution to allow him to stay in power longer, or even
indefinitely, as has happened in Rwanda, Burundi, and elsewhere.
Dozens died when rowdy protests
and subsequent crackdowns broke out after Kabila refused to hold elections last
on Tuesday, Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that elections would
be pushed back 504 additional days, to mid-2019. That could be a disaster for
the unstable, corruption-riddled government, opposition leaders and analysts
What the CENI
has announced is not an electoral calendar but an election-killing agenda,” said Claudel
Lubaya, a member of the opposition, in an interview with
“If elections are not held this
year, it will embolden the opposition” and support their allegations that
Kabila is carrying out a power grab, John Mukum Mbaku, a nonresident senior
fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings, told FP.
“It will create the kind of frustration among members of the opposition that
could launch the country into more sectarian violence.”
Since December, the country has
faced pushback from the international community. The United States, Britain,
Belgium, France, the United Nations, and human rights groups have called on the government to
respect the rights of its citizens to peacefully assemble and to hold elections
in a timely manner.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s
announcement, the Congolese government has hired prominent lobbyists in
Washington, D.C., including Nancye Woolsey (the wife of former CIA director
James Woolsey), former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, and Donald Trump campaigner Adnan
Jalil. In an unusual arrangement, Congo has also agreed to pay the Israeli
firm Mer Security and Communications $5.6 million this year to help coordinate
lobbying the Trump administration and Republican leadership.
The agreement between Kabila
and the opposition was a “lie” to the Congolese people, said the source
familiar with the electoral process, because it was logistically impossible to
hold a fair election in 2017.
The source denied that Kabila
was behind the delay but admitted that “maybe President Kabila is profiting
The DRC embassy in Washington
did not answer multiple calls and an email on Thursday.
But the argument that elections
are logistically challenging and expensive is the same argument given almost a
year ago when the vote was delayed the first time.
There’s a real possibility, Mbaku
said, that in 2019, the president “and the electoral commission would find some
other thing to complain about and postpone the election again.”