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Congo National Assembly Approves Constitution Changes

(Corrects vote tally to 334 in favor of amendment in final paragraph.)

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s National Assembly approved eight constitutional amendments yesterday including one that would eliminate the second round of voting in this year’s presidential election.

The changes, which still need senate approval, would also increase the power of the president and the minister of justice.

The proposed amendments are meant to “fill in and clarify” parts of the 2006 constitution that are “ill-adapted to the political and socio-economic reality of DRC,” said Congolese President Joseph Kabila, according to a copy of a statement he sent to parliament.

Thirty-nine-year-old Kabila, who was elected in 2006 in Congo’s first democratic vote in 40 years, faces a difficult re-election campaign this year. Armed conflicts and extreme poverty continue to plague the mineral-rich country, which is struggling to overcome four decades of dictatorship and war.

The elimination of a run-off election will save the country money and “avoid the risk of undermining peace, national unity, and the young Congolese democracy,” Kabila said. Without a run-off, a presidential candidate could be elected with a minority of ballots, if they win more votes than their competitors.

If all amendments pass the parliament, the president would have the power to dissolve provincial assemblies, sack governors and call referendums. Congo’s office of the prosecutor would also answer to the ministry of justice.

Another proposed amendment would delay the division of the country into 26 provinces, compared with the current system of 11.

Most opposition parliamentarians boycotted the vote, citing procedural irregularities, opposition member Medard Mulangala Lwakabwanga said by phone from Kinshasa, the capital, today.

Of 500 national assembly members, 334 voted in favor of the amendments, with two voting against and one abstention, according to Kinshasa-based newspaper le Potentiel.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in London at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Sanders in London at psanders@bloomberg.net.

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