The international media covering the event focuses on thedifficulties in accomplishing a democratic election, such as the large country’s poor infrastructure, lack of organization surrounding the election, along with violence and suspected fraud. Nonetheless, according to the International Crisis Group, the conflict region in the east has improved its infrastructure and electoral situation, implying that participation in the election will probably be higher than it was in 2006. As important as these logistical aspects might be in providing a democratic election, a more challenging could be the lack of proper debate and campaigning in the political arena of DRC.
Although there are eleven registered presidential candidates, they hardly represent eleven distinct ideologies and political programmes. Instead, the focus of the candidates’ campaigning is placed on their strong personalities and (sometimes violent) slogans, simply promising a solution to all of DRC’s problems. Even though Kabila is the predicted winner, the election also concerns his former colleague Vital Kamerhe and Étienne Tshisekedi. The three candidates’ support is geographically anchored.
Kabila came to power after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated a decade ago and was later democratically elected in the 2006 general election. It is estimated that his support comes mainly from the eastern regions of the DRC, and not from the capital Kinshasa and the rest of the western regions*. After a disagreement in 2009 Kamerhe left Kabila’s PPRD (Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie) together with ten other parliamentarians, to form a new party, the UNC (Union pour la Nation Congolaise), which also finds its main support in the east*. Kamerhe grew up in the east and studied in the west. Speaking all the four national languages, as well as the official language, French, might provide him with an advantage in the geographically tied power struggle.
Étienne Tshisekedi is a veteran politician, active in the DRC political scene since the 1960’s, when he challenged Mobuto and Laurent Kabila. In 2006 he initially chose to boycott the election due to the suspected fraud but ultimately he decided to participate. Less than a year ago it was confirmed that the 78 year old Tshisekedi, at uncertain health, is the presidential candidate of the UDPS (Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social) and earlier this year he announced that he is prepared to cooperate with other parties in order to defeat Kabila. However, more recently he declared himself president: “We don’t need to wait for the elections. In a democracy, whoever has the power is the majority of the people. Therefore, from this day on I am the Head of State of the DRC.”
Tshisekedi has been criticized for his absence from DRC during the political campaign, favoring a visit to the Hague’s International Court, where Jean-Pierre Bemba is currently being held, followed by a visit to South Africa (though it remains unclear whether the latter was for a political or medical reason).
Jean-Pierre Bemba , leader of the MLC (Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo) and former opponent of Kabila’s, currently awaits his trial in The Netherlands for charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nonetheless, some speculate that he might still join Tshisekedi at a later stage.
For a long time it has been uncertain whether or not the election would be held due to the instability sparked by the political campaigning. The turbulent situation has seen outbursts of violence and distress across the DRC.
Holding the election presents many challenges including the demand of financial resources. In the 2006 election,80% of costs were financed by international donors. This year, despite the apparent instability, international donations were reduced to around 40%. Still, although economic resources would improve electoral infrastructure and security, the problem remains: there are no clear political alternatives provided for voters, thereby undermining democratic legitimacy of the election.
EDITH BRODDA JANSEN
The results of the election is to be announced in December.
*All of the sources used to predict the election result emphasize the uncertainty behind these figures.