Congo Opposition Split Over Kabila Accord as Vote Delayed

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest opposition group rejected a political accord that delays the nation’s elections for more than a year and called for more inclusive talks with President Joseph Kabila’s government.

The ruling party and a small opposition delegation led by Vital Kamerhe on Oct. 18 signed an agreement that postponed a vote scheduled for November until April 2018 at the earliest, and put in place a reorganized government under a new opposition prime minister to be appointed by Nov. 9.

The agreement is “a sham solution to the crisis of which the only outcome is the confiscation and sharing of power by its signatories,” Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the opposition coalition that boycotted the talks, said in an e-mailed statement dated Oct. 20.

We “call on the Congolese people to not recognize the illegitimate government that will come from it,” he said.

Congo’s powerful Catholic church also rejected the agreement, calling on politicians to renegotiate it to ensure elections are held next year.

Resolving Differences

Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power. The constitution requires Kabila to step down in December but under the agreement reached this week, he will remain in office for at least another 16 months until a new leader is elected. The national electoral body says the delay is required to complete a complicated voter registration process in the huge central African country. Opposition leaders accuse Kabila of purposely blocking the preparations in order to hold on to power.

The United Nations, which has an 18,000-strong peacekeeping force in the country, has repeatedly asked Kabila to respect the constitution. It welcomed on Wednesday the political agreement and asked political leaders that weren’t party to the accord to “seek to resolve their differences peacefully.”

The Catholic church, which suspended its own participation in the talks in September, said the agreement was inadequate and that elections must be held in 2017. 

“We are concerned by the divergent positions between the different parties and the risk that it could result in a violent confrontation,” the National Episcopal Conference of Congo said in a statement handed to reporters Friday.

Any agreement should include a firm commitment from Kabila not to run for a third presidential term, it said. Clauses in an earlier version preventing him from changing the constitution and seeking re-election were removed and signatories said that they weren’t needed as the deal still compels him to hand over power after the delayed vote.

Avoiding Crisis

As political tensions have escalated government crackdowns on opposition protests have intensified. In the most recent violence, at least 48 civilians were killed by security forces during demonstrations in September, according to a report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa. Congo has denied that its forces acted improperly and said only 32 people were killed.

The political agreement has avoided a bigger crisis by providing a plan of how the country will be governed after Kabila’s second mandate ends on Dec. 19, according to Jean Lucien Bussa, a leader of the opposition group that participated in the talks organized by the African Union.

“We have provided a perspective on a way forward that didn’t exist before,” he said in an interview Thursday. “Negotiations were needed.”

In addition to the prime minister’s office, opposition signatories of the agreement will also take over half of the ministerial and vice-ministerial posts in what may turn out to be a comprehensive reorganization of the government, Bussa said.