Another season, another electoral crisis. The 2008 Kenyan electoral crisis, the 2010-2011 Ivoirian electoral crisis... Are we headed towards an electoral crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The Democratic Republic of Congo has just recently undergone its presidential elections, which declared the incumbent president Joseph Kabila victor, with some 49% of the votes. However, the runner-up, Etienne Tshisekedi, who garnered 32% of the vote according to the country's electoral commission has declared the election results inaccurate and faked. He went ahead and swore himself into office this Friday at his own home. His supporters, though dispersed by the police and prevented from attending the ceremony, have been voicing their objections to the results of the elections. Clashes with police and burning of tires in street protests are a couple of the ways through which their anger has been manifested.
As with every such situation, there is an interesting back-story to all of this. The DRC's 2011 presidential elections are considered to be only the second democratic ones in the country's history. The DRC is still reeling from the shocks of (and indeed, still receiving shocks from) the two continent-wide wars which brought about the downfall of longtime strongman Mobutu and of the next ruler Laurent Kabila in a complex series of coup and counter-coup. The latter's son Joseph Kabila has cemented his position as president of the DRC for the last ten years. Tshisekedi, whose own political path saw him both cooperating with and criticizing the government, even serving as Prime minister on several occasions under Mobutu, has certainly had his presidential hopes dashed more than once. It was in 2006 that he saw himself relegated to the sidelines of the presidential contest, denouncing even then fraudulent elections.
By all accounts the 2011 elections were also rather fraudulent. The Carter Center, as well as the governments of France, Belgium and the United States have condemned the elections. Perhaps because there are other headline-grabbing issues in the news these days, or perhaps for fear of any further instability, these protests by foreign governments have remained just that. In the midst of all of this, a Kabila and a Tshisekedi, each with no thoughts of backing down. How does it come to this stalemate?
It seems like there are at least a couple of factors which can explain this phenomenon, and while it would be unwise to draw any strict causal relationship out of these, the following factors seem to contribute, especially in the DRC case, but also in the Cote D'Ivoire case, to electoral stalemates and crises.
The first factor is the inability of the state to organize elections correctly and in a timely manner. While the international community helped greatly to organize the 2006 elections, this was not the case this time around. The logistics involved in creating transparent and inclusive elections are awe-inspiring, to say nothing of doing so in regions cut off from the rest of the country due to conflict or bad infrastructure. The government finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it prepares the elections. Should it choose to prioritize transparent and well organized elections, it risks having to push back the officially set date for the event, to the protest and suspicion of opposition groups. If it wishes to have the elections on time, however, it ends up with (as was the case) not only badly organized, but also potentially fraudulent elections.
Another factor seems to be a highly mobilized and vocal set of opposition groups. Tshisekedi excluded himself from the 2006 elections, only to change his mind and enter the race late. Not so this time, as he has mobilized youth groups and other politicians around him. An election is a period where the whole complex political process boils down to a simple yes or no to one person. Mobilizing around the 'no' to more Kabila rule has been one of the opposition (as incarnated by Tshisekedi, at any rate)'s main themes.
Furthermore, there is the incumbent's relationship to power. Like Gbagbo in Cote D'Ivoire, Kabila came to power in a time of uncertainty, and stayed in power during transitional years in a less-than-universally-accepted series of political events. This certainly helps to cement an opposition (as diverse and contradictory as it may be; the DRC's anti-Kabila sentiment is certainly not wholly incarnated in Tshisekedi) to the power in place.
Yet another factor is a profound mistrust of governance and of state functions. Tshisekedi clearly doesn't trust the electoral process to be fair to him the next time around. It does not help matters that Kabila is considered to subscribe to the systemic corruption that plagues the country's political administration).
Lastly, an uninvolved international community compounds the problem. Or perhaps the better way to state things is that an interested and active international community can be the beginnings of a solution. In Kenya in 2008, it was Kofi Annan mediating a power sharing deal between the two sides. In Cote d’Ivoire it was some mediation in concert with neighboring countries, but most importantly the intervention of UN and French forces in the push to get Gbagbo out of power.
There is no need to get ahead of ourselves; the RDC tensions thus far do not seem to be in the realm of conflict. There is also little indication that the stalemate between these two polititicians will be blown into some violent standoff. Tshisekedi's own actions, how they are reacted to by the political power in place, and the violent mobilization or lack thereof of the two sides' supporters will determine the intensity of the standoff. Unlike in Cote d’Ivoire, where it was the incumbent Gbagbo who lost the election and declared himself president, here it is the challenger Tshisekedi, in his home and without his supporters.