Voter registration that began across the Congo in April 2011 concluded on 17 July, on time even in troubled regions such as the Kivu provinces and the Ituri district, and produced a nearly 6.3 million increase in the electorate, 24.5 per cent over the 2006 exercise.
If it went relatively well, it was mainly because the voter's card also serves as an identity card, so is as useful to militiamen as to ordinary citizens. Neither civil society nor political parties fundamentally challenged the operation at the local level, but this is not synonymous with satisfaction.
The surprising results the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced and lack of dialogue and verification by the voters themselves feed latent but widespread suspicions in the opposition and civil society. To ensure credible elections, it is necessary to improve transparency, respect the electoral law and establish a forum for dialogue between INEC, the parties and civil society.
Ituri and North and South Kivu form a key region for two reasons: they are the sole part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) still harbouring armed groups, and they provided an important reservoir of votes for the ruling party in the 2006 elections. With Katanga and Maniema, it was the East - Orientale (including Ituri) and the Kivus - that elected Joseph Kabila and his People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), giving it more than 90 per cent support. However, the political landscape has changed in this region: an opposition party has emerged - the Congolese Union for the Nation (UNC) led by Vital Kamerhe, the former chair of the National Assembly - and the popularity of the government is falling due to persistent insecurity.
In an area that is electorally and militarily strategic, the campaign has just begun, in an atmosphere of relative political freedom that does not exclude, however, some restrictions and intimidation. Access to the media remains unbalanced, and there is pressure on the opposition, especially the UNC, because it is very active in this region. Nevertheless, due to the asymmetry of political forces, local politicians regard the presidential election as already decided in the East and the main stakes to be the legislative and provincial elections.
The electoral process in the East has generated suspicion on a national scale that risks developing into a crisis of confidence in the whole electoral process. Based on Crisis Group's regional observations, the following measures should be taken across the country:
- the international community should observe the entire electoral process in detail, particularly in rural areas;
- political parties and civil society should prepare now for observing the voting, and the former should be allowed to campaign freely;
- INEC should scrupulously respect the electoral code, especially regarding accreditation of observers, and should establish a formal platform for dialogue with political parties and civil society at both national and provincial level;
- INEC should establish transparent and widely publicised procedures for receiving grievances from civil society and the political parties regarding the approaching elections;
- INEC should publish the voters list and the breakdown of registration by district and territory in 2006 and 2011 and publicly explain its methodology for finalising the voters roll;
- INEC should establish a standardised procedure for challenging the results and publish those results by each voting station;
- the High Council for Media should quickly become operational;
- all stakeholders in the electoral process should accept the code of conduct introduced by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN; and the UN mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) should encourage a more sustained respect for political freedom and dialogue between INEC, the political parties and civil society at national and provincial level, since dialogue is the key element in building trust;
- MONUSCO should continue to deploy its troops in the areas where the armed groups are active;
- MONUSCO and the international community should increase their crowd management training program for the Congolese police;
- MONUSCO should increase its logistical support for the timely distribution of electoral material; and
- the presidential majority and the opposition should, for the contingency that postponement of the elections cannot be avoided, negotiate an agreement that sets a new deadline for the elections and provides that government would limit itself to routine business until they are held.
Having already analysed the main challenges of the electoral process nationally in the report Congo: The Electoral Dilemma, Crisis Group in this briefing examines voter registration and the beginning of the campaign on the ground in the East, putting the preparations for elections in late 2011 in their local context and highlighting the electoral stakes in a region that remains fundamental for durable stability in the country.
Kinshasa/Nairobi/Brussels, 5 September 2011