Between credibility and chaos in the Congo : Mail & Guardian Online
"By last month, 41 years had gone by since what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had held democratically contested elections, and it is no wonder that citizens had grown disillusioned with the political process. But the current electoral process has provided a brief window of opportunity to change that mindset, and the often cynical Congolese have allowed themselves to believe -- just a little bit -- that their vote counts. This is why so much is at stake.
Few observers believe that the simple act of holding elections will usher in a new era of democracy. Real change will be gradual, and hopefully steady, but there are no guarantees. Both leading candidates -- President Joseph Kabila and Jean Pierre Bemba, a Vice-President in the transitional government -- have demonstrated disrespect for democratic principles, a tendency to solve matters through military means and tolerance of corruption.
Bemba, a former rebel leader, has the advantage of having won support in areas that he has already governed. Kabila, on the other hand, has been most successful in areas that have little experience of his rule. He has the least support in Kinshasa, a city that has been his home since 1997, but whose residents have grown tired of the president and his cronies.
International observers have so far cautiously endorsed the voting process as free and fair. However, the ballot-counting process has been marred by inconsistencies. Observers have characterised these as minor. With the exception of Kabila, all the main candidates have alleged that there has been widespread fraud, but substantive evidence backing these assertions is yet to emerge.
The Independent Electoral Commission plans to publish provisional election results on August 20. If Kabila manages to get more than 50%, the DRC will have a new president, and the challenges to the legitimacy of the poll will start coming fast and furiously. Kabila’s opponents will latch on to reports that the counting process was less than perfect and may demand a new vote. They will also play on the popular impression that Washington, Brussels, Paris and Pretoria orchestrated a Kabila victory long ago. As a result, violence is likely to erupt in Kinshasa, and the public perception of the electoral process will be seriously damaged.
If no outright winner emerges, a second round of voting will be held in two months. While this would extend the period of constitutional limbo, it would also go a long way towards diffusing the feeling that Kabila’s victory was a foregone conclusion, thereby bolstering the credibility of the process, and the legitimacy of the new president and his government.
For that is what this exercise is all about: electing a government that has a popular mandate to govern. Whatever one thinks of the qualities of Kabila or Bemba, or the 31 other presidential candidates, the electoral process is intended to create the impression that whoever wins the elections is the choice of the Congolese people.
Expectations are running very high. Having been coaxed out of their political disillusionment with the promise that this time things will really be different, the Congolese will not take kindly to feeling cheated again. The next few weeks will determine whether the new government in Africa’s third-largest country, where more than four million people have died over the past nine years, is to have any credibility."
Journalist Stephanie Wolters, who spent five years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is author of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quarterly report on the DRC and was editor-in-chief of Monuc’s Radio Okapi
Also, here are the Elections under the view of GlobalVoices' Ethan Zuckerman:
There’s a strong regional component to the results - President Kabila received massive support in eastern DRC - 97% of the vote in Bukavu, for instance - where he’s viewed as the key figure in ending the conflicts that have devestated much of eastern DRC. But in Kinshasa, Kabila received 17% of the vote, as compared to 51% for Bemba. Kabila, a Swahili-speaker who grew up in Tanzania, is dismissed as “not Congolese” by some of Bemba’s Lingala-speaking supporters.A wise woman (my dear mother) once told me that I should only add my voice when I feel I can contribute something more. The friends here have largely expressed most of what I see. So I will refrain from adding anything, except maybe in the comments later.
As alliances form before the runoff, Bemba’s coalition is uniting under the theme “Tout Sauf Kabila” - anyone but Kabila. The alliance is united by more than opposition to Kabila - they are likely to rally under the slogan, “Let us save Congo from the East-West partition,” believing that a Kabila victory will lead towards an inevitable geographic split, given Kabila’s unpopularity in the west, which might make the capital ungovernable if he were to win. Jonathan Edelstein, analyzing the situation on Head Heeb, suggests that the coalition-building process favors Bemba (...)"
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