DR Congo Court Extends President's Term

The Democratic Republic of Congo risks violence after the Constitutional Court ruled that President Joseph Kabila can stay on after his term ends in December, if the country does not hold elections by November.
Local and international observers warn that the May 11 ruling, and the continued crackdown on dissent are a recipe for widespread violence.
Stephanie Wolters, head of Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division at the Institute for Security Studies in a phone interview with The EastAfrican from Pretoria, said that the court ruling has made it difficult for the international community to intervene because it gives President Kabila's continued stay a domestic legitimacy from a domestic institution.
"The ruling is a game changer; it will be difficult for the international community to say that they don't respect it, while it is apparent that the court is not independent, and takes orders from the government" said Ms Wolters.
President Kabila has been in power since 2001 -- when he replaced his assassinated father, Laurent Desire Kabila -- and is required by law to step down at the end of his second term on December 19. Yet, his plans remain unclear as he has neither confirmed his intention to step down nor said he will stand again.
While Article 73 of the Constitution states that presidential elections should be organised 90 days before the end of the president's term, the government is yet to come up with a calendar.
Both local and international experts on the DRC concur that it would be difficult to organise credible elections by November due to an obsolete voter register that has not been updated since 2006, lack of resources and the lack of political will on the part of the government to hold elections.
Christian Rumu, Amnesty International's Great Lakes campaigner said that without a clear election calendar, it is likely that the November date will be postponed, and President Kabila stays beyond his constitutional mandate, which would then raise political and social tensions.
"It is also likely that the electoral body will seek authorisation from the Constitutional Court to delay election due to lack of money. Last year, the court granted it the same request ahead of the provincial elections," said Mr Rumu.
Delays in the preparation for elections have raised concerns among the opposition that President Kabila is bent on triggering a constitutional crisis, after his attempts to change the country's law early last year were met with violent protests in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi.
Leading officials of President Kabila's People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy led by Information Minister, Lambert Mende who is also the government spokesperson, have made it clear that elections cannot be held before the end of the year, and are instead calling for national dialogue.
But experts say that violence is likely to erupt in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi because the court ruling has closed all the doors for the national dialogue that was initiated by President Kabila in May last year.
The majority of the opposition parties -- except the Union for Democracy and Social Progress led by veteran opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi -- have boycotted the national dialogue on grounds that it is a ploy by President Kabila to stay in power.
In the past one and half years, President Kabila has been cracking down on opposition, religious and civil society groups who have been mobilising against his intention for a third term. There has been a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions by the National Intelligence Agency and trials based on trumped-up or illegitimate charges.
The latest victim is the former governor of Katanga Province, Moise Katumbi, who is under investigation -- launched soon after he declared his intention to challenge President Kabila in early May -- for allegedly recruiting mercenaries.
According to Daniel Bekele, the Africa director at Human Rights Watch, arresting those close to opposition leaders, vandalising their party offices, and using teargas to disrupt peaceful demonstrations sends a frightening message about future election security.
The biggest challenge is how the opposition and the donor community are likely to react given that President Kabila could stay on indefinitely on the pretext that the government has no resources to organise elections.

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