What will the new parliament look like?

On Thursday, the election commission released a list of 484 out of 500 parliamentarians in the new national assembly. While this list is going to be fiercely contested, and while there is no doubt that there was widespread fraud, it is still useful to provide a provisional analysis of these results.

Many of the points I make here have already been made in the insightful analyses by Thierry Vircoulon on the excellent Afrikarabia, and by Jean-Claude Willame of the University of Louvain (here, from p. 13). Also see a summary of reaction in the international and Congolese press, as well as a summary of the results, provied by Dialogue magazine here.

These preliminary results show that Kabila’s majorité présidentielle coalition has garnered 260 seats – a thin majority – while the opposition has 134. Here’s the list of the main parties, as compared with how they fared in 2006 (courtesy of Dialogue):

  1. The first conclusion, which many have pointed out, is that there has been a fragmentation of both the majorité and the opposition. The PPRD party, which is most closely identified with President Kabila, saw their share of the lower House diminish by almost half, and Antoine Gizenga’s PALU party also had its wings tightly clipped. Similarly, the opposition MLC party lost almost two thirds of its seats. But it’s not so straightforward: there are also far fewer independent candidates – 17 instead of 63 – and only slightly fewer total political parties. What is really different is the much more even distribution of seats – the PPRD has lost its total dominance and now has to contend with the MSR, PPPD, PALU and ARC. What does this mean? To get anything passed – first and foremost, a new government and prime minister – will take a lot of bargaining and probably bribery. Nothing new here, but this is the opposite of what President Kabila has been trying to bring about, first with his failed attempt to revise the electoral law, then with his Charter of the Majorité Présidentielle of April 2011.
  2. The opposition only has 26% of seats in the lower house, so they fared worse than in the official presidential score (of course, all of these results are contested). The big question is what the UDPS will decide to do – if they boycott parliament, as Tshisekedi has vowed to do, we can expect little from the remaining opposition groups, none of which has more than 5% of seats. The largest opposition group, the MLC, is suffering from defections and the absence of their leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba. However, even if the UDPS choose the institutional path, at most they will be able to nominate people to some of the parliamentary commissions. While Kabila will have a hard time controlling a fractious legislature, we can still not expect much oversight and push-back from these MPs.
  3. As we can see, the majority only have 260 confirmed seats, which would not be enough to allow them to revise the constitution without a referendum (they need 300 votes to do this). Of course, anything is possible, and the above calculations suggest that 106 MPs have not decided whether they would be in Kabila’s camp or not. Without changing the constitution, Kabila will not be able to run for a third term in 2016.
  4. The new kid on the block is the PPPD, a party that emerged out of nowhere just months before the elections and is now the third strongest. Little is known about the party, other than it is led by a respected professor – and former dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences – at the University of Kinshasa, Ngoma Binda. The other prominent member of the party is Leonard She Okitundu, a former foreign minister (neither was elected MP). I would think that they are in a decent position for the prime ministerial race, as the job will probably go to a westerner, and MSR’s Pierre Lumbi is from the East. Their main rivals will probably be the PPRD’s Evariste Boshab (although his influence is waning along with their poor results) and ARC’s Olivier Kamitatu.
  5. It’s difficult to say what criteria mattered most to voters during these legislative elections – in Bukavu, for example, the most popular candidate ran for the opposition UNC and was able to channel frustrations with Kabila; however, the second-most popular candidate was a Kabila stalwart, who command a strong following among his own Rega ethnicity, which couldn’t bring itself to vote for a Shi candidate from the UNC. In Walungu (South Kivu), the former governor of the province Norbert Kantintima cruised to a comfortable victory even though he was very unpopular a governor for the RCD rebels. In short: to a certain degree, the elections were a plebiscite of the incumbent, but money, ethnicity and personality also mattered a lot.

So what does this all mean? We will have to wait to see whether anything will come of the many election disputes that are being submitted to the Supreme Court, and whether donor pressure will have an impact. If the results are upheld, however, we can expect five years of unruly dominance of Kabila’s allies over parliament and the executive.