Controversial revision of constitution in DR Congo

Photo by Maria Eriksson-Baaz

Tensions are rising as the Democratic Republic of Congo is starting to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of November 2011. A controversial revision of the constitution, strongly contested by the political opposition, was recently approved in an exceptionally speedy legislative process. The national assembly 11 January voted yes to the controversial constitutional revision and two days later the revision was also approved by the senate. 

The constitutional revision, which generally gives more power to the presidency, include several changes, such as placing the prosecutor's office under the authority of the minister of justice and giving the president the right to dissolve the provincial assemblies. The most controversial and debated revision currently, however, concerns the new procedures for the presidential elections - from the previous two round election system, to single elections.

The government motivates the revisions by economic and security concerns. The proposed changes will, according to them, not only save half of the costs, but reduce the risk of the country “sinking into identity wars like in Kenya, Guinea and Ivory Coast".

However, the opposition argues that the elections in Ivory Coast rather inspired by providing a nightmare scenario in terms of Kabila’s prospects in the up-coming elections. Most analysts see the revisions as a strategy to increase the chances for the president to be re-elected. With continued insecurity in the East and little – if any – improvements in living conditions of the population, Kabila has lost much of the support he enjoyed during the elections in 2006, particularly so in the eastern Kivu provinces whose votes were central for bringing him to power.

The new system (as it looks now) simply means that the candidate who receives most votes – however small percentage of total votes - wins. The presidential candidates are likely to be numerous (there were 33 presidential candidates in the 2006 elections). Moreover, the major opposing parties are more unlikely to form an alliance and choose one candidate if there is just one round of elections. Kabilas chances of winning in a two round election system, which would allow the anti-Kabila constituency to vote for one candidate, are considered to be rather small. This means that the new system greatly increases Kabila’s chances of being re-elected. 

In addition to sources claiming that the speedy acceptance of the revisions was facilitated by financial compensation to opposition parliamentarians, the revisions are problematic in several ways. More power is concentrated to the president while, at the same time, the legitimacy of the presidency is reduced by the revisions of the electoral system. While the new electoral system is used in several other countries, the revisions still raise troubling questions with regards to the future of the democratic process in the DRC. The circumstances around and extraordinary speed of the legislative process, allowing little room for debate, raise concerns. It can be seen as part of a general worrying trend in recent years in the DRC with increasing authoritarianism and shrinking space for the political opposition, journalists and human rights activists.  


Central Africa
Congo DR
Constitutional reform
Electoral systems
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