Fatal pre-election clashes in D.R. Congo

These days, a common topic for discussion among expats in Kisangani is whether they are planning to stay on the ground during the November general election. Most say that their organization has already decided that all staff will be pulled from the country for at least a few days prior and a week after the election.

Yet at the same time, most expats here feel confident that the election will go off without much disturbance in Kisangani. The same cannot be said for other areas of the country where the political climate is already tense. But as we draw closer to the candidate nomination deadline (11 September), the streets of Kisangani are notably louder with the voices of political parties rallying for their turn at the helm.

This week, Kinshasa made headlines when political clashes between the opposition party the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the current government became fatal. According to local police, the UDPS attacked the offices of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) headquarters on Monday with stones and an improvised petrol bomb.

The headquarters for the UDPS along with a television station accused of supporting the party were attacked and set on fire on Tuesday, shortly after the UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi announced his candidacy for president. One person was killed in clashes with police later that same day, while two others were taken to a local hospital in critical condition.

As a result of these events, the government issued a moratorium on political rallies until after the Sunday nomination deadline.

These early political uprisings don’t bode well for the future of the electoral season within D.R. Congo. Tshisekedi and President Kabila are the two main contenders for the presidency in an election that has been dissected continuously over the past few months.

UDPS candidate Etienne Tshisekedi, like most politicians in DRC, is a recycled technocrat from the previous administrations within DRC. Tshisekedi held the Prime Minister post three times, all of which combined only amount to about eight months in office. Tshisekedi also had a hand in the execution of DRC’s first president, Patrice Lumumba. More recently, Tshisekedi is known for being an outspoken opponent to President Laurent Kabila (current President Joseph Kabila’s father, who was assassinated in 2001). Tshisekedi boycotted the 2006 elections because he did not agree with both the structure of the new government and the delay in polling.

President Kabila is young (only 40 years old) and has an outspoken loyal following. He also has the advantages of the state coffers to line up patronage networks to ensure his victory. However, there is still uncertainty as to whether Kabila can win an outright vote – even with the constitutional changes to a one-round election. There has been some speculation that the president will resort to vote manipulation and rigging to ensure his victory.

Questions still linger as to whether DRC will be able to pull off the poll given the current budgetary concerns and the delay in receiving polling equipment. Other questions surround whether the election can truly be fair in the current political climate and with only one round to decide the president.

Jason Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters gives an excellent analysis of the electoral season and pending poll on his blog.

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