Deep Concerns about Elections in DRC
The national election campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially started on Friday 28th of October, exactly one month ahead of historic presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for November 28. 41 humanitarian and human rights organizations, one of them being SFCG, have expressed concern about the high political tension and deteriorating security situation. They have called upon all Congolese and international actors involved to take urgent measures to prevent electoral violence, better protect civilians and ensure credible, free and fair elections.
The government presides over a country in which the average adult has 3.8 years of education, approximately 20% of children die before age five and millions of civilians have died in the last decades as a result of war. Compared to the last elections in 2005, the authorities face increased challenges to prevent fraud. The number of registered voters increased from 25,712,552 to 32,024,640. To meet the higher participation, there will be 60,000 polling stations, instead of only 50,045 in 2005. The voters also face challenges as the choice of candidates and parties has drastically increased. In 2005 there were about 9,000 candidates belonging to about 280 parties running for the 500 seats in the National Assembly. This time, it is over 19,000 candidates belonging to 430 parties. Credibility and transparency will be much harder to ensure in these elections as there will be no UN observers at all and only 145 EU observers.
There are serious doubts about whether credible, transparent and democratic polls are possible within the official electoral calendar. Without elections that meet free and fair standards, as well as a strong international and local observation presence to build confidence in the electoral process, the risk of electoral dispute and violence is high. Hot spots include Kinshasa, where some of the 41 humanitarian and human rights organizations, including SFCG, have denounced excessive use of force against protesters by the national police. The potential for violence is also high in Eastern Congo, which voted heavily for President Kabila in the last election.
The 41 organizations call for the following measures to be urgently taken to prevent electoral violence:
The DRC authorities should ensure that civilians are able to participate safely in the elections by deploying well-trained and equipped national police forces and by ensuring that the police refrain from using excessive force. The authorities should respect freedom of expression and of the press, guarantee the right of assembly and peaceful protest, and abstain from intimidation. They should ensure that effective electoral dispute mechanisms are in place.
The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) should immediately publish more information about its strategy, including its plans for collating and publishing the results and voter education. It should facilitate a constructive dialogue about the electoral process between civil society, the opposition and the authorities in power, in line with the consultation process that took place in 2006.
The political parties should abide by the Electoral Code of Conduct, accept the result of free and fair elections, and ask their supporters to remain peaceful. They should avoid engaging in hate speeches or inciting the population to violence.
Embassies and international electoral observation missions should coordinate their actions with local observers in order to monitor as much of the country as possible. They should focus observation on likely flashpoints – such as large urban areas Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Mbandaka – invest more in building local observation capacity, and publicly denounce any violations in the electoral process.
The UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) should ensure that its rapid reaction force and UN police are ready to deploy in identified flashpoints in order to prevent and respond to any possible violence, including responding to any deliberate use of excessive force against civilians by the Congolese authorities. It should also publicly report on election-related violations, and mediate conflicts between political parties.
The 41 organizations remind the international community of its obligation to help DRC transition into a democracy. “It cannot afford for fraudulent or poorly conducted elections to spark violence and set back development. After so many decades of war and plunder, the Congolese people deserve peace and stability – and really need support for that”, said Paul Nsapu, General Secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and chair of the Ligue des Electeurs in the DRC.
Regarding the elections, SFCG in DRC is to encourage people to vote via spots on over 100 radio and 10 television stations in all provinces.
In addition, a guide for the media was developed to promote responsible election coverage. It reminds journalists of key principles, necessary behaviour, and useful techniques in reporting, and provides illustrative examples, such as a case study of elections in Togo. With numerous other countries across the continent preparing for elections, the manual will also be circulated via the Radio for Peacebuilding network, which has approximately 3,500 members. Read more about SFCG in DRC here.