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by Camille Bauer

A Second Round of the Congolese Presidential Elections under High Tension

Translated Friday 25 August 2006, by Patrick Bolland

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, leads the first round of the presidential election. He will confront his ex-army leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in the second round. A high-stakes duel.

The second consecutive day of street-fighting yesterday pitted the partisans of President Joseph Kabila with those of his ex-warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, generating a tense climate for the second round of the Congolese legislative elections, which should take place next 29 October. Yesterday’s attack by the presidential guard, close to Kabila, against the residence of Bemba, augurs a major confrontation between the two men who came first and second in the presidential elections. On Sunday, the Independent National Commission (CEI) announced the results of the first round of the presidential vote, the first elections in 24 years in a nation ravaged by years of Mobutu dictatorship and, since 1996, by two civil wars which led to intervention of seven countries in the region and left nearly four million dead.

With 44.81% of the votes, Joseph Kabila, the outgoing president, has a clear lead over nearly all his contenders. Yet, this is at least a partial failure for this “darling of the international community”, who was declared head of state following the assassination of his father in 2001, and who was hoping to win the presidency in the first round. Opposing him, Jean Pierre Bemba, head of the Congo Liberation Movement (MLC), becoming one the vice-presidents in 2003, won 20.03% of the votes cast. The historical opponent, closely linked to Patrice Lumumba, Antoine Gizenga, was in third position with 13.06% of the votes, giving him in a decisive role in the outcome of the second round. He was followed by Nganza Mobutu, son if the ex-dictator, with 4.77%.

“These elections are a historic event and an important step in the peace process in this nation”, declared UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, when the results were announced. The UN had invested $450-million in the process, and sent about 18,000 troops to the DRC – no surprise they were pleased with the relatively low level of incidents marring the elections in this nation, which still largely lacks infrastructure and where armed groups continue to sow terror in various parts of the country. There was also a feeling of satisfaction for many Congolese, with a turnout of 70.54% at the polls.

The results announced on Sunday still have to be validated by the Supreme Court of Justice, mandated to examine electoral disputes. And these may prove to be many. Despite the overall smooth running of the voting process, European Union observers estimated at the beginning of August than in some of the 50,000 voting stations, vote-counting was chaotic. Since the vote, more than 15 of the 33 presidential candidates have complained of “massive fraud”. Discontent by some carries dire threats, particularly in the case of Azarias Ruberwa, leader of the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie (RCD), the rebel group in the east of the Congo. The poor results by the RCD, considered the armed wing of Rwanda in the DRC, is likely to mean Ruberwa will lose his position as a national vice-president, as well as the loss of numerous posts by members of his movement in transitional institutions they had held since the 2002 Inter-Congolese agreement. A loss of influence which may encourage the RCD to react with their arsenal of arms. In June 2004, hostilities by RCD dissidents faced with a process which marginalized them had already brought the country to the verge of civil war.

A dangerous confrontation

The potentially violent confrontation between Bemba and Kabila, of which the first signs emerged after the initial announcement of the results, is a bad sign. Both have the backing of their own armies, and Bemba, facing charges by the International War Crimes Tribunal, may try to maintain his immunity by any means available. The confrontation between the two candidates crystallizes once again the divisions in the country. If Kabila swept the eastern provinces, clearly benefiting from the hostility to the RCD and the desire to remain part of the Congo, Bemba won widely in the west and the capital, rallying under his umbrella all those who are angry with the transition process. This has clearly been fuelled by the increasing frustration of the Congolese with a president who is seen as a puppet of the West. But Bemba has also played a more sinister card, announcing his “Congolese identity” (“Congolité”), in contrast to a Kabila who is accused of partly foreign parenthood. This may be a winning card, but the consequences could be explosive.

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