• Elections set for November may be postponed due to constraints
  • Opposition leader Kamerhe to oppose the court's decision

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila will remain in office if the country fails to hold presidential elections that are scheduled for November, the Constitutional Court ruled.

“The court ruled that the head of state will stay in power until a new president is elected, even if the election of that president is delayed,” court spokesman Mumbombo Baudouin said in an interview Wednesday in the capital, Kinshasa.

Kabila, in power since 2001, won elections in 2006 and 2011 and is required by the constitution to step down this year. Elections are scheduled for November but financial and technical constraints, including delays to a voter registration process, mean the poll is likely to be postponed.

The constitutional court ruling is likely to inflame political tensions with opposition parties who say Kabila is intentionally blocking election preparations to hold on to power.

Clandestine referendum

“This is a disguised revision of the constitution, made by nine judges, a clandestine referendum,” said Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition party the Union for a Congolese Nation. “We are not surprised, it is a court in the pay of President Kabila and we will oppose the decision,” he said by phone from Kinshasa.

The ruling is an interpretation of Article 70 of the country’s constitution, demanded last month by elected members of the ruling coalition. The article states that “at the end of the mandate, the president remains in post until the inauguration of the new president elect.”

Opposition politicians argue that this only applies if an election has taken place and insist that Kabila must step down at the end of his second mandate on Dec. 20. They say that under Article 75 of the constitution, the President of Senate should serve as interim president until polls can be held.

Congo has never had a democratic transition of power. Last January, as many as 40 people died in protests against a proposed change to the electoral law that would have allowed Kabila to stay in power.

The Constitutional Court is described in the 2006 constitution but was only inaugurated last year. In September, it ruled that the president could directly appoint special commissioners to govern 21 new provinces until new governors could be elected. Opposition leaders alleged that the ruling was designed to allow the ruling coalition to increase its control of the country.

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