Elections in the DRC: Just a year away

You may have missed it (I did), but in late July President Kabila finally signed into a law legislation creating a new electoral commission. It will be led by an office of 7 people, four of whom are designated by the majority coalition in the national assembly (Kabila’s AMP) and three by the opposition .

Elections in 2011 may be very contentious, especially if a strong opponent to Kabila emerges, such as Vital Kamerhe. There are a few controversies making the rounds at the moment. First, the existing electoral commission has asked for all Congolese voters to re-register; they say that there have been a lot of fraudulent registration cards distributed. This could be contentious, especially in the East, where many rwandophones breathed a sigh of relief when they effectively obtained proof of citizenship through their last voter registration card in 2005. What will happen in areas such as Masisi, where we know have over 10,000 refugees who have returned from Rwanda?

Secondly, the issue of foreign supervision/interference. Much was made about MONUC being sent packing before elections, so they wouldn’t be able to observe any funny business, but apparently the electoral commission has now asked MONUC to help with logistics – in 2006, it was largely the peacekeeping mission that helped transport ballot boxes and personnel.

The elections in 2006 were more or less free and fair (with some notable exceptions). But the government has repeatedly said they want to organize these elections themselves. I hear a provisional budget would be around $70 million for two separate rounds of elections (first national, then local), with the Congolese government funding over half. That is a far cry from the over $400 million needed for the 2006 elections – how will they organize it? Will they allow the same degree of civil society and foreign observation?

Finally, the electoral calendar – it’s already getting pretty tight. According to the constitution, the presidential elections have to be held by the latest in September 2011, just a year from now. Apparently the electoral commission will propose the timetable once the national assembly comes back into session in September, but that could take a while, especially if we are delayed by a new registration process.