Constitutional revision passed in the national assembly

The news just in from Kinshasa: The constitutional revision passed the national assembly today with 350 out of 500 votes. The Palais du Peuple got a bit chaotic when a fistfight broke out on the podium between opposition and majority MPs, but the vote eventually passed. Already there are accusations that the votes were bought in order to make this one of the fastest legislative acts of the national assembly (talk of $20,000 per MP) – it passed in just a few days, and apparently violated legal process as it was not sent to the government for comments before adoption.

Three hundred and fifty is pretty impressive, for more than the official total of AMP members in parliament – apparently they even got a few MLC members to vote for the revision, which again elicited accusations of bribery.

The proposed revision must now go to the senate. Given, however, that the current session closes in two days, some MPs doubt that the senate will have time to pass the revision and will have to take it up again in March when it comes back from vacation. But Kabila’s AMP only needs 51% of the vote there, which is should have, and then 60% in a joint session of both chambers, which it should have, as well.

So what were the changes? I believe there were 18 articles put forward for changes, but I haven’t seen the full list yet. The most important change was of course in the electoral system – the president is now elected by a plurality vote in one round of elections instead of two. He can win even with 15% or 20% of the vote, as long as he’s ahead of his competitors.

Other changes include giving the minister of justice authority over the prosecutor’s office, a power that exists in many other countries but that the Congolese constitution had thus far prevented – I am sure that critics will also claim that this change is anti-constitutional, as per Article 220 the independence of the judiciary cannot be tampered with through constitutional revisions.

The creation of 26 provinces out of the 11 current ones – a process known as découpage – has also been put on hold. Even though the constitution still says that these provinces will be created (Article 2), the period of 3 years over which this must be done (that has expired) has been removed.

Other changes are in the budgetary process (the president can ask for temporary credits if the budget isn’t adopted in time) and in allowing the president to dissolve the provincial assemblies and revoke governors.