Congolese opposition faces uphill task

The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Monday 28 November. However, logistical challenges could postpone the elections, argue observers according to the blog Congo Siasa. Earlier this week, NAI researcher Maria Eriksson Baaz returned from field research in the North Kivu province in the DR Congo. We asked Maria three questions about the situation in the country in the run up to polling day.

What was your impression of the election campaigns?
- Well, first I would say that there is a striking difference between now and the 2006 elections. In 2006, the campaign period was characterized by vibrant political discussions and quite a lot of hope for what the elections could bring. This seems now to have been largely replaced by a general despair and mistrust in politicians, including the opposition - a “leave the politics to the politicians” attitude.

The level of mistrust is reflected, for example, in that many people, while critical to Joseph Kabila, state that he is still the best choice since he already have had time to enrich himself out of state coffers. Therefore, there is a small chance that he will actually do something in the next term in office, while a new person would be fully concentrated on feeding himself, not providing anything for the population. So there is also a strong mistrust in opposition politicians, a mistrust which is strengthened by the fact that the opposition has not been able to unite.

A widespread standpoint is also that the results are already given; that Kabila will win and that there is no real point in the elections. This is connected to the fact that Kabila managed to change the constitution in his favour earlier this year. He also has a tremendous advantage in terms of campaigning resources. His image is seen everywhere and people attending his meetings do not go home empty handed. He has managed to buy a majority of Congolese musicians who perform in his campaigns. He controls the security forces and some units are also unofficially campaigning for him. While he has not explicitly said that he intends to stay in power whatever the results, his campaigns send this message. It is a political manifestation that he is the incontestable man in power. Also, most seem convinced that there, in addition to the already existing problems in the voter registration process and missing polling stations, will be a considerable level of rigging.

Do you think that the opposition stands no chance of winning?
- Both Thisekedi and Kamerhe are popular in different parts of the country. Thisekedi is most probably the opposition candidate that will receive most votes. However, his campaigning resources have been quite limited. In addition, his strange statements recently ( ) seem to have discouraged some people. However, I think his main weakness is his age. People often say that they are worried about how long he will last after the elections and refer to the other veteran, the PALU politician Gizenga who became prime minister after the last elections and allegedly spent most of his time in office sleeping. Kamerhe is quite charismatic and a very good speaker, fluent in all official languages, and will surely manage to get a considerable share of votes, not only in the East. However, his credibility is questioned since he is associated with Kabila. He was leading Kabila’s campaign in the last elections and people wonder if the fall-out is really true and whether he really represents change.

I think that both opposition candidates will suffer from a low turn-out following from the general mistrust. In contrast to the last elections, many critics of the regime that I talked to said that they would not vote at all this time around.

Are people worried about insecurity?
- Yes, though my impression is that this worry is stronger within the international community than among Congolese themselves. Opposition candidates will surely try mobilizing supporters to contest elections results. However, while there is a great deal of malcontent and frustration out there that could be tapped, the mistrust against politicians in general and the lack of a unified opposition will make people less inclined protesting in the streets, risking their lives. Also, the widespread poverty and the fact that most people live day to day, makes it difficult to engage in more long-term consistent political protests. There will surely be protests in various urban centres once the results are out. However, I do not think it will be very long lived. But I could be wrong.

Some opposition figures seem to be hoping for a “Congolese spring”. However, besides that Kabila not really can be compared with Gaddafi or Mubarak, the situation in the DRC is quite different from that of North Africa, in various ways.

For more information on developments in the electoral campaign see the blog Congo Siasa.

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