With two months until the anticipated all-levels national poll in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the D.R. Congo (MONUSCO) is attempting to take proactive steps to minimize election violence. Developments this week show that opposition parties are doing the same as they move toward an agreement to back a single candidate in the contest.
This week, MONUSCO announced that it would intensify security operations around Bukavu, North Kivu province, where the majority of the ongoing conflict has occurred. This includes ramping up patrols and increased support for the national military (FARDC).
At the same time, the African Union is working proactively on the diplomatic end to foster a peaceful environment among all opposition parties and their supporters during the election season. This week, all the major parties are meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss tactics to prevent violence during the election.
Meanwhile, opposition parties are taking this opportunity to discuss the possibility of backing a single candidate in the poll. According to Voice of America, the opposition is nearing consensus on supporting unified opposition candidate. The next stage will be selecting who that candidate will be.
An obvious choice is the dark horse candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi, who was Prime Minister in the 1990s (three separate terms, lasting less than 8 months total) and worked in opposition to Mobutu and Kabila I. However, backing a 78-year-old in a race against a 40-year-old could be a risky move. This set up sounds strangely familiar (i.e. the US election in 2008, although Obama was not an incumbent and did not have illicit means to facilitate his election).
In a fair election, if the opposition could rally behind a single candidate, there’s a solid chance that the Kabila dynasty will end. However, it’s not yet clear how fair this election will be, given the constitutional changes and issues over voter registration.
Other questions still remain as to whether the elections will occur on time (November 28th). Delays could result from the general lack of infrastructure within Congo, which makes accessing remote areas with polling materials difficult. Other causes could be a general lack of manpower and funding to administer the poll. A delay in the polling could cause any fragile alliance among the opposition to splinter or perhaps even strengthen, depending on the situation.
Still, I wouldn’t count on seeing a repeat of Zambia in the D.R.C. Support for the PPRD and incumbent President Joseph Kabila is still strong throughout the country. Even with a unified opposition and a fair, timely election, Kabila could still win the election outright. He has managed to bring a face of stability to the country after decades of war and has promised economic growth. The past five years haven’t really given him enough of a chance to either shine or falter. For many Congolese, Kabila deserves another five years to prove himself.