Congo Sets Governors Vote Date as Opposition Plans Strike

  • Opposition says President Joseph Kabila seeking to extend rule
  • Copper-producing nation may hold presidential vote in November

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said gubernatorial elections will take place in March, as opposition parties called for a general strike next week to protest what they say are efforts by President Joseph Kabila to hang on to power.

Voting for governors and deputy governors in 21 of the country’s 26 provinces will be held March 26, the Independent National Electoral Commission, known by its French acronym CENI, said in a statement e-mailed from the capital, Kinshasa. Congo is the world’s biggest source of cobalt, used to make rechargeable batteries, and Africa’s largest copper and tin miner.

“The CENI has received a firm engagement from the government to fund the election of governors and vice governors,” it said.

The indirect gubernatorial ballot was supposed to be part of a series of about a dozen elections scheduled to take place between October 2015 and November 2016, culminating in a vote for a new president. Dates for the election of provincial assembly members, senators and local government representatives have also been missed. A comprehensive revised election calendar has yet to be published even after requests from donors and opposition parties.

New governors are required following the creation of 21 new provinces last year. Since a September Constitutional Court ruling that the government could take “exceptional measures” to maintain “peace and security” in the new provinces, they have been run by directly appointed special commissioners.

Opposition Fears

The opposition says that the creation of new provinces and the crowded election program will be used to postpone November’s presidential election and allow Kabila to remain in power. Kabila won elections in 2006 and 2011 and the constitution bars him from running for a third term.

The U.S. special envoy for the Great Lakes region said Wednesday that a “political crisis is building” in Congo as it “prepares -- or rather fails to prepare -- for upcoming, historic elections.” The coming year will determine if the country will build on its democratic gains “or reverses course and risks falling back into conflict and underdevelopment,” Thomas Perriello told a senate committee in Washington.

Human Suffering

“If the DRC chooses the path taken by Burundi, the scale of human suffering could dwarf what we have seen next door,” he said, according to an online transcript, referring to a nine-month crisis spurred by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term that’s left more than 440 people dead.

In November the U.S. government imposed targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on members of Burundi’s political and security elite for their role in the violent political crisis. The U.S. is considering similar sanctions on individuals “who threaten the peace and security of the DRC and undermine its democracy,” Perriello said.

Opposition parties including La Dynamique and G7 Wednesday called for students and workers to stay at home Feb. 16 to protest against the electoral process.

“Democracy is threatened and the electoral process has been deliberately delayed,” Charles Mwando Simba, spokesman for the opposition coalition, told reporters Wednesday in Kinshasa.

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