The fate of the next president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) hangs in the balance. The disputed election results – released after long delays from the electoral commission – announced that Felix Tshisekedi as the winner. There are now plenty of eyes on the country to see what happens next.
Tshisekedi’s party the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) was formed by the DRC’s long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi – and his father. There are reports that Etienne was not happy with his son taking over the leadership over the party as Etienne was someone who fought for the people. Following the release of election results, Tshisekedi announced that he recognised DRC president Joseph Kabila as an “important political partner.”
Elections in the DRC took place on December 30, and the results were announced on 11 January, after a delay. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi provisionally received 38% of the vote with opposition leader Martin Fayulu getting 34% of the vote. Fayulu’s party the Commitment for Citizenship and Development launched in 2009 as an alternative to the UDPS. He was instrumental during the 2016 and 2017 protests which called for Kabila to step down.
Definite results were supposed to be released by January 15 with the original schedule placing the inauguration on January 18. The electoral commission announced that president Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition had won a majority in legislative and provincial elections.
Calls for Recount
Runner-up in the polls Fayulu denounced the results and has called for a recount of the votes. He has taken his concerns to court and is challenging the election results. Fayulu filed a petition with the constitutional court on January 11. The court now has seven days to consider his petition.
The court announced that they would start hearing the appeal from January 15. Speaking to AFP, Albert Fabrice Puela, one of Fayulu’s lawyers said that they are expecting the court to reveal the truth of the ballot boxes.
Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said to The Daily Vox that the first requirement going forward for the DRC and for democracy to prevail needs to be a recount of the votes.
Regional blocs the Great Lakes Bloc and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) both released statements calling for Congolese authorities to be more forthright in the results in the interest of the country’s stability. Fears of widespread violence have not been realised but the internet which was cut off the day after voting took place remains off till now.
On January 13 SADC – an economic bloc that includes South Africa and Zambia – released a statement calling for a unity government and for a recount to provide assurances to the winners and losers of the election.
“SADC draws the attention of Congolese politicians to similar arrangements that were very successful in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya” that created the “necessary stability for durable peace,” the statement said.
Cilliers said until the votes are recounted there shouldn’t be any talk of a government of national unity. “The government of national unity concept is very much South Africa trying to export its mantra. I’m not sure if a government of national unity is the best solution. I am a little sceptical about that standard South African export model. It’s a bit past its a bit past its sell-by date,” he says.
A government of National Unity
Later on, the bloc clarified that they had not called for a government of unity. Instead the statement said SADC’s efforts following the release of the provisional results should be focused on “a negotiated political settlement through dialogue and inclusiveness.” The latest SADC statement – dated January 14 – says any recount or perception of irregularities should be left to the DRC’s internal processes.
The International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (CIRGL) – through a statement – have expressed concerns about the controversial results adding: “We suggest that the competent structures consider counting the votes in order to guarantee the transparency of the results.”
There have been many calls within the region and internationally for calm in the DRC. Cilliers says: “Violence and instability is a real concern and I think that’s why people are calling for calm.” He adds that the worst scenario moving forward is “where there is no change in the DRC and there is a continuation of exploitation and insecurity. Democracy only works and helps if there is a free and fair election and that is under considerable doubt in the DRC.”
South Africa’s reaction
During a press briefing held on January 13, the international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu commended the DRC on the election results saying: “We would like to see an end to what has been going on […] Whatever the outcome of the Constitutional Court in relation to Fayulu, ultimately we want to see peace.”
Cilliers says South Africa – under former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have always gone with the position of power and have taken the position of the people. He adds that he hopes under President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency, South Africa takes a more principled approach.
“South Africa needs to be unequivocally that it wants validation of the election results and it will not pronounce on the election results until all the contradictory issues and disenfranchised voters are sorted out and there is clarity of the results,” Cilliers adds.
Cilliers reiterates that the success of governments of national unity are questionable and should not be considered as a model. “In Zimbabwe, it has not led to any transition in the quality of governance in that country. The Zanu-PF just managed to constrain any changes in the country and outmaneuver the opposition parties. Democracy is supposed to allow the electorate to make a choice and that doesn’t appear to have happened in the DRC.”
A government of national unity is likely to hand back to Kabila setting a bad precedent for any peaceful and meaningful transition of power – which the DRC needs.