Congo Leader Blocks Senate Inaugurations After Alleged Graft

(Bloomberg) -- Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi blocked senators from taking their seats after an election at the weekend marred by allegations of corruption.

The decision further delays Tshisekedi’s formation of a new government, almost three months after he won a disputed election to lead the world’s biggest cobalt producer. It comes less than two weeks after he and ex-President Joseph Kabila, whose allies won the most seats in parliament’s upper chamber, agreed to govern the central African nation in a coalition.

The president “has suspended the installation of senators,” interim Interior Minister Basile Olongo told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa, after a meeting attended by ministers and the head of the electoral commission. Kabila’s Common Front for Congo, known as the FCC, won more than two-thirds of the 100 available Senate seats in the March 15 ballot. Tshisekedi’s party and his allies got three.

The senatorial poll took place amid accusations of vote-selling by members of Congo’s provincial parliaments, who elect the upper chamber in a secret ballot. Supporters of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress, or UDPS, protested the results in several cities at the weekend, vandalizing some offices of Kabila’s party.

Their anger is most intense in Kinshasa, where the UDPS didn’t win any of the eight senatorial seats on offer despite controlling a quarter of the local assembly.

“There are serious indications that these people were corrupted to vote for other senators,” UDPS spokesman Paul Tshilumbu said by phone. “There are lots of presumptions that it’s FCC people who had the money to corrupt our parliamentarians.”

Tshisekedi has instructed Attorney General Flory Kabange Numbi to begin an investigation into the corruption allegations and also postponed gubernatorial elections scheduled for March 26, according to Olongo.

Illegal Move

The FCC immediately opposed the president’s decisions, which “go against the constitution and the laws of the republic,” Nehemie Mwilanya, a coalition official who served as Kabila’s chief of staff, said in a statement. Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, or PPRD, said it “outright rejects” Tshisekedi’s measures and urged its senators to assume their seats “as soon as possible.”

The PPRD is the largest party in the FCC.

Congo’s constitution obliges the president to select a prime minister from the ranks of the parliamentary majority and on March 7 the UDPS and the FCC announced their intention to “facilitate the quick establishment of a functioning government reflecting the will of the people.”

Tshisekedi’s camp is “conscious that the FCC has a majority in parliament, so we aren’t surprised if the Senate will be controlled by them,” according to Tshilumbu. “What we denounce is that our parliamentarians who are supposed to support the president in the fight against corruption have accepted money in order to be corrupted.”

The allegations of corruption come after Martin Fayulu, the runner-up in the Dec. 30 presidential election, claimed that vote was rigged. He accused Tshisekedi of doing a backroom deal with Kabila to deprive him of victory -- a charge both men deny. While Kabila’s preferred successor finished a distant third in the contest, the FCC dominated national and provincial parliamentary polls.

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