Following a disputed presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has proposed a recount of the results, alongside calling for a unified national government.
After 18 years of contentious rule from the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, the long-awaited December 30th poll was hoped to mark the first peaceful transfer of power since D.R.C.’s independence in 1960. However, fears of electoral fraud have marred the election, which saw opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi named president-elect. Runner-up Martin Fayulu, marked as a clear winner in pre-election-polls, has accused Tshisekedi of striking a deal with the outgoing president to keep Fayulu from power – an accusation denied by both Tshisekedi and Kabila. Convinced of fraud, Fayulu has filed a challenge to the D.R.C.’s Constitutional Court to have the result overturned.
While the D.R.C. refused offers from Western bodies to oversee the credibility of the election, the Catholic Church, which has a strong presence in the massive country, posted over 40,000 of its own election observers. Fuelling the allegations of electoral fraud, the Church publicly announced that the results published by the D.R.C.’s electoral commission did not match the tallies compiled by its own monitoring team.
As Fayulu’s political party contained two staunch rivals of Kabila, several analysts have suggested that the outgoing president, predicting the loss of his own party’s candidate, chose to back the opposition which would provide him with the most continuation of power. Nic Cheeseman, an expert in African politics at Birmingham University, suggested that this alleged deal would allow Kabila to retain power while giving the semblance of change – and hence reducing the probability of violent protests – something which would not have been possible had Kabila’s own candidate won. “It’s a transition and relatively peaceful so far… so it is a way of making the continuity look like change.” Given Kabila’s initial refusal to step down from power when his term expired in 2016, a renewed desire to maintain power would be unsurprising.
The 16-nation SADC initially argued that the December 30th election went “relatively well,” despite several problems on the day such as late-opening polling stations and faulty voting machines. However, isolated post-election violence, including the reported death of four people during protests in Kikwit (AFP news agency), has raised widespread fears that these contested election results will trigger unrest similar to the devastating civil war of the 1990s. In light of these fears, the SADC has altered its stance, now supporting Fayulu’s appeal to the D.R.C.’s Constitutional Court for a hand-recount, stating that this “would provide the necessary reassurance to both winners and losers.” The Constitutional Court may make one of three decisions following this appeal: ordering a recount as desired by both Fayulu and the SADC; confirming Tshisekedi’s victory; or calling for fresh elections. With many of the Court’s judges being suspected of close ties with Kabila’s government and having no track record of overturning results, the SADC has provided an additional recommendation for the D.R.C.: the creation of a national unity government comprised of representatives for Kabila, Fayulu and Tshisekedi. In a statement, the SADC drew attention “to similar arrangements that were very successful in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya [that created the] necessary stability for durable peace.”
The chance for this kind of unity in the Congo remains unlikely at the moment and the outcome of the Constitutional Court’s decision may set a precedent with effects far beyond the D.R.C.’s borders. Given the controversy and allegations surrounding the election, the denial of a recount may open the door for more questionable elections in the future. As argued by Cheeseman, “if [other corrupt] leaders can see that they can get away with that kind of election now…what is their motive to hold a better one in the future?”
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