Congolese Opposition Rejects Plan for Kabila to Remain in Office

  • Opposition demands Kabila step down when mandate ends in Dec.
  • Series of opposition protests are planned for Sept. 19

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest opposition parties rejected a plan for President Joseph Kabila to rule as head of a reorganized government until delayed elections can be held and insisted the head of state must step down when his term ends in December.

“It is unacceptable,” said Union for Democracy and Social Progress spokesman Felix Tshisekedi, whose father finished runner-up to Kabila in a disputed vote in 2011. “For us the red line is December 19 and Kabila must leave office," he said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa.

Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer, has never had a peaceful transfer of leadership. Kabila, in power since 2001, won elections in 2006 and 2011 but is prevented from running for a third term by the constitution. Opposition parties are preparing a series of protests beginning on Sept. 19 when, according to the constitution, Kabila should call the presidential election -- 90 days before his term ends.

Presidential elections were originally scheduled for November, but have been delayed to provide more time to update the country’s voter roll. Justice Minister and ruling-party member Alexis Thambwe said Wednesday that Kabila will remain in power until the voter-registration process has been completed and an election can be held, but didn’t say how long this would take.

Violating Constitution

“To accept this agreement would be to accept a violation of the constitution,” Eve Bazaiba, the secretary-general of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo, said by phone. “The mandate of the president is fixed, he must step down in December.”

Both the UDPS and MLC, along with a majority of other opposition parties, are boycotting election talks called for by Kabila and facilitated by the African Union. They say that a delegation led by opposition leader Vital Kamerhe that has agreed to the election delay and rejoined the formal negotiations on Thursday isn’t representative and can’t speak for the wider opposition. Kamerhe’s group and the ruling party are expected to reach a final agreement on Saturday.

“With the complicity of Mr Kamerhe and others, they are in the process of installing a dictatorship that we will never accept,” Tshisekedi said, calling on the international community, that has been supporting the talks, to reject any outcome.

‘Untrustworthy’ Government

The national election commission has previously said the registration of voters will be completed by July, but the UDPS and MLC say the government cannot be trusted to complete the process on time and will also use the delay to find other ways for the president to hold on to power.

The G7, a group of seven former ministers and ruling party members who left the government coalition last year and have endorsed presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi, said they would take more time to assess the outcomes of Kamerhe’s negotiations but reiterated that Kabila must step down in December.

“We still don’t have enough elements to evaluate the quality of this little agreement,” said Pierre Lumbi, a spokesman for the group and former adviser to Kabila. “The parties have only agreed one point out of many,” he said, referring to the sequencing of the presidential poll first, alongside national and provincial legislative votes.

All parties are calling for peaceful demonstrations. Opposition supporters and security forces have clashed regularly during anti-government rallies in the past two years. In January 2015 at least 36 people died in protests in Kinshasa against a proposed change to the electoral law that could have delayed elections for as long as four years.