Kabila to Retain Power in Congo as Head of Caretaker Government

(Bloomberg) -- President Joseph Kabila will remain in power in the Democratic Republic of Congo until a voter registration process is completed and a new caretaker government will be appointed to run the nation before a delayed vote can be held.

Representatives from Congo’s ruling party and members of a small opposition delegation, led by Vital Kamerhe, said they agreed that a comprehensive review of the country’s voter register must be completed before presidential elections, originally scheduled for November, take place. Justice Minister and ruling-party member Alexis Thambwe said the government would be reorganized to include members of the opposition to run the country until the vote.

“We will manage the country together,” he told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, late Wednesday.

In response, Kamerhe’s opposition delegation said it will rejoin formal negotiations on reorganizing the elections on Thursday. The group suspended participation in the talks on Sept. 12, citing disagreement with a plan by Kabila’s ruling coalition to hold local elections before a vote for the executive, a process they said could take years.

Talks Boycott

Thambwe’s announcement may anger Congo’s largest opposition parties, including Etienne Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress and the coalition of parties backing presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi, who have boycotted the talks. The parties insist that Kabila must step down when his second term ends on Dec. 19 as required by the constitution.

“Nothing justifies that Kabila stays one day longer than Dec. 19,” UDPS spokesman Felix Tshisekedi said in an interview in Kinshasa.

A complete update of the voter register will be undertaken and then “presidential and legislative elections, both national and provincial, will be held in a first phase,” Edem Kodjo, the African Union facilitator of the talks, told reporters. Local elections, which should have taken place twice since 2006 but have never been held, will be organized at the same vote “if the means allow it,” he said.

Election Funding

The delegation said Congo would fund the whole voter-register revision independently, but didn’t define how long the process would take nor the extent of the presidential vote’s delay. The national electoral body has previously said it wouldn’t be completed until July 2017, meaning Kabila will remain in power until at least October 2017.

“I said it to two partners who saw me this morning that we are going to finance these elections,” Thambwe said. “We don’t want to be blackmailed.”

The UDPS and other opposition parties are planning protests on Sept. 19 when, according to the constitution, Kabila should call the presidential election, 90 days before the end of his term.

Kodjo said he hoped to conclude the election talks quickly by reaching a formal agreement with Kabila’s ruling coalition and Kamerhe’s opposition delegation on Sept. 17. Government supporters hope an accord can help to defuse the planned protests two days later.

Congo is the world’s largest copper producer and the biggest source of cobalt.