Congolese bishops keep up pressure on President Kabila

Congolese Bishop's Conference

With polls scheduled in the Democratic Republic of Congo six months from now, the Congolese Bishops’ Conference is keeping up the pressure on the government to respect the Constitution and the electoral timetable.

Meeting in a Plenary Assembly last week, the bishops demanded strict respect for the election timeline, which includes presidential polls on Dec. 23.

“Having paid with their blood for a success at democracy, the Congolese people are on their feet, waiting impatiently for the holding of elections on Dec. 23 and not later,” they said.

“President [Joseph] Kabila can become a hero in Congolese history,” said Jennifer Haskell, charge d’affaires of the United States for Congo at a reception on June 27. “He can oversee his country’s first peaceful, credible and democratic transfer of power.”

For the Congolese bishops, the idea of Kabila running again in 2018 is inconceivable. “The president of the republic is elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term renewable only once,” they said.

“Therefore, any president who has completed a second term can no longer seek a third,” the bishops continued.

They quoted Article 70 of the agreement concluded between the opposition and ruling parties on Dec. 31, 2016, which the Catholic leaders sponsored. This agreement was aimed at ending weeks of political instability around the end of Kabila’s last constitutional term.

The bishops’ pressure on the government stems from a concern — expressed also by many observers – about the electoral process.

They feel that the measures to ease the political tension that the New Year’s Eve Agreement provided for have not been implemented, especially those regarding the release of certain political prisoners.

Additionally, they are worried about the existence — revealed in an audit by the International Organisation of La Francophonie — of about 6.7 million registered voters whose fingerprints have not been taken.

For his part, Kabila mentioned the electoral process in an address carried on state television on June 29, on the eve of the 58th anniversary of the independence of the DR Congo.

Expressing confidence that the election calendar would be respected, he called on all Congolese to believe so.

“I urge you to remain steadfast and to show, if it is still necessary, that it’s you who are the rulers and it’s up to you to decide on the fate and future of our dear, beautiful country, no one else,” he said.

He also called on politicians and civil society to “become involved unreservedly in making this appointment with history materialize, once more and consolidating our young democracy which, moreover, does not suffer from any complex.”