14 August 2006: Anger in Congo Capital as Kabila Builds Poll Lead
Hackles are rising in Congo`s volatile capital Kinshasa as incumbent President Joseph Kabila builds a lead with results trickling in from the country`s first free elections in more than four decades. Electoral officials stress drawing a trend with so few votes counted is premature but their advice is being roundly ignored as Kabila stretches his lead over former rebel chief Jean-Pierre Bemba, possibly heading for a win in the first round. The latest results on Sunday, from 65 of the 169 constituencies, gave Kabila some 48 percent of the vote while Bemba headed the field of 31 challengers with around 18 percent. A candidate needs over half the vote to win outright. The independent electoral commission is due to announce provisional results on 20 August but Kabila`s strong showing in his native Swahili-speaking east has already put people on edge in the Lingala-speaking capital where he is deeply unpopular.
Since the holding of elections two weeks ago, the press has been quick to publish speculative reports, in spite of warnings from the IEC, Monuc and international observers that not only is it impossible to extrapolate to a national tendency by looking at just some local results, but that it is dangerous and irresponsible (1).
To date, 14 August, only some 9.4% (2) of votes have been counted – 65 of the 169 constituencies. Based on these results the media are giving Kabila some 46.9% of the vote and Bemba around 25.4%. The independent electoral commission is due to announce provisional results on 20 August, but Kabila`s strong showing in his native Swahili-speaking east has already put people on edge in Kinshasa, the Lingala-speaking capital where he is deeply unpopular. What is clear at this stage is that it is a race between current president Joseph Kabila and one of the four vice-presidents, Jean-Pierre Bemba, who draws his popularity mainly from western DRC, especially Kinshasa and Equater. There are two possible scenarios: to become elected a candidate must win more than 50% of the votes; should no candidate achieve this then a second round must be held in October 2006. At this stage it is difficult to speculate or make a prediction on which scenario will play out. The feeling in Kinshasa, Bemba’s stronghold is, however, that a second round is most likely.
It is anticipated that should Kabila win, this will elicit negative reactions from both Jean-Pierre Bemba and Azarias Ruberwa, both of whom have the capacity to start a war again in the DRC. Jean-Pierre Bemba is very sure of a win and unconfirmed reports from his campaign in Province Oriental are that he has stated that if he does not win he will go back to war. He is in a position to manipulate some armed groups and dissatisfied politicians to politically disrupt the DRC, reports indicating that he has some thousands of troops in Kinshasa and Equateur, and that he may also use the soldiers of General Nkunda in North Kivu if needed. Bemba draws support from most of the opposition parties, including the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP).
If Jean-Pierre Bemba wins the election how will the eastern part of DRC react? This is an unknown factor, but may elicit calls for secession, opening the door for an intensification of conflict that will become more widespread.
How Etienne Tshisekedi, who did not take part in the elections, will react to the outcome of the elections is still unsure. Can we anticipate that he may join forces with opposition groups aligned to Bemba?
Should the second scenario unfold in which no candidate get more than 50% plus one, then a second round must take place. This we now can confidently assume to be between Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba. Such an election will take place within the framework of two major alliances: the TSK “Tout Sauf Kabila” (All against Kabila or Anyone Except Kabila) and the AMP (Alliance for the Presidential Majority). A second round will reveal the greater strength of the Bemba alliance.
Henri Boshoff and Joseph Yav