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Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): national elections, a litmus test of political maturity
28 November 2011

Millions of Congolese await the results of the second democratic elections since independence in 1960. Masisi, DRC (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
Like many politicians, they are full of campaign promises to make the DRC a modern, economically progressive country. Scepticism abounds as to whether these promises will ever be fulfilled once they are elected.
Goma, 28 November 2011 – In the second democratic general elections since independence in 1960, the Congolese people will vote for a new president and parliament today.

There are 11 candidates vying for the highest office of the land, and among them is the incumbent President Joseph Kabila Kabange who is running for re-election. He is identified as candidate number three. In addition, an incredible more than 18,500 candidates are competing for 500 seats in the national assembly; approximately 37 candidates are competing for each parliamentary seat.

The Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) has been mandated by the Congolese government to organise the presidential and legislative elections.

In a country as big as Western Europe where infrastructures such as roads and bridges are non-existent in many regions, the CENI is faced with the herculean task of successfully organising this very important event. The international community and neighbouring states would like to see the DRC succeed in organising peaceful elections as part of the on-going democratisation process of the country. Hence the UN, the EU, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community have offered financial, logistical and human resource assistance to the country.

Without a doubt the success of these elections is good for the country, the Great Lakes region and the African continent in general.

Over the past three weeks, election fever has been high. While the candidates are all on the campaign trail, some have more financial and logistical resources whereas others have little to none. A good number of candidates for the national assembly campaign door-to-door in their respective districts, while a select few get a lot of national TV and radio coverage.

As one radio commentator said, "while others are already almost at the finish line, some seem to be sluggish in starting their campaigns".

Like many politicians, they are full of campaign promises to make the DRC a modern, economically progressive country. Scepticism abounds as to whether these promises will ever be fulfilled once they are elected.

"All politicians seem to have one sickness-they become amnesiacs immediately after having been elected", said one education inspector in Goma. It seems for many that being elected is the quickest way to get rich.

The future, risks and opportunities

It is unclear whether the presidential candidates and those running for legislative seats in the national assembly are aware there are two million internally displaced persons in the country, and hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees exiled abroad. Surprisingly, hardly anyone has discussed this issue. In these elections, money counts much more than the impeccable presentation by candidates of their socio-political and economic plans for the Congolese or their country. Even good candidates with excellent plans stand to perform poorly in these elections if they don't give out money.

In a country where everyone seems confident that they will win, it is difficult for candidates accept defeat. Instead, defeated candidates are quick to cry foul. In these elections there will be no losers, only victims of electoral fraud and sabotage.

Nobody knows what will happen after the election results are announced on 6 December. It is likely there will be various forms of protest, some peacefully through the courts, others may resort to violence. Despite calls for restraint and respect for the voice of the people, there are serious risks that disenfranchised groups will try to manipulate opposition supporters to create havoc.

Regardless of the outcome, these elections will determine the political stability of the nation in the coming years, and whether the two million IDPs can return home to their villages and begin rebuilding their lives in peace and dignity. This holds true for the hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees living in exile. These elections are a litmus test of the political maturity of the country's political elite.

Romy Cagatin SVD, JRS DRC Director

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