Kinshasa – Opposition parties in Democratic Republic of Congo threatened on Monday to boycott provincial elections this year unless voting rolls are first updated, the latest twist in a bitter dispute between the government and opposition.
Congo’s election commission (CENI) has scheduled six separate election days over 13 months, beginning with polls for local and provincial representatives in October and culminating in presidential and legislative elections in November 2016.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is constitutionally barred from standing for a third elected term next year. But the opposition claims he intends to use electoral delays to cling to power, a charge the government denies.
The commission began accepting candidacies for provincial elections last week. But the opposition told its members not to participate until the CENI addresses its demand that more than five million Congolese who have turned 18 since voting rolls were last updated in 2011 be allowed to vote.
“We call on the parties and groupings of the political opposition, civil society organisations and other independent candidates across the nation to abstain from all participation in the process,” the parties said in a statement.
Martin Fayulu, president of the Engagement for Citizenship and Democracy (ECIDE) who read the statement, confirmed that the parties would boycott provincial elections if the voting rolls were not updated.
The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), Congo’s principal opposition party, was not represented at the statement’s signing but its secretary-general Bruno Mavungu said he agreed with the other parties’ position.
CENI member Jean-Pierre Kalamba told Reuters the election calendar made it impossible to enrol new voters before the provincial elections.
However, he said voter rolls would be updated between January and April of next year, in time for presidential and legislative elections.
A boycott of provincial elections would effectively exclude the opposition from the senate and governorships, as those posts will be chosen by the newly-elected provincial deputies and local representatives in indirect polls set for early 2016.
Fayulu said the opposition parties would not participate in the local elections, which they considered a ploy to delay the presidential election.
The political climate in Congo has been tense since January when at least 40 people were killed during violent demonstrations against a revision of Congo’s electoral law that opponents said was meant to delay the presidential polls.