The internal power struggle in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is entering a crucial stage.
The regime of President Joseph Kabila has become significantly weakened between the middle of the year 2014 and the early days of February 2015.
The Congolese constitution stipulates that an elected president can serve a maximum of two five-year terms. President Kabila is now in his second term that will end in November 2016 when a national election is scheduled. During the second half of 2014, President Kabila’s majority coalition engaged in extensive calls for the constitution to be amended in order to allow for a third term.
This public relations drive to amend the constitution was undermined by events in the West African nation of Burkina Faso in October 2014. There, President Blaise Compaore attempted to bring an amendment to the constitution abolishing the two-term limit to a vote in Parliament. Because of his unpopularity developed during two decades in power, this attempt at changing the constitution brought over 100,000 demonstrators into the streets. They burned the parliament and forced the president to escape into exile.
In addition to the example set by the people of Burkina Faso, the American Secretary of State John Kerry issued a public warning to President Kabila not to attempt to change the constitution in his own favor.
With a constitutional amendment precluded, President Kabila’s political group changed its approach. They asked the Parliament to enact legislation that would require a national census before the next elections could be held. Since the Congo is such a large country, without much infrastructure, a national census would take at least five years to complete, thereby delaying the next presidential election well beyond the scheduled date of November 2016.
The parliament refused to enact this legislation, thereby maintaining the November 2016 date for the election.
The fact that the political system failed to respond to President Kabila’s efforts to remain in power beyond the end of his term, indicates that his hold over power is significantly weakened. At the current time (early February 2015), Kabila’s police and intelligence services are engaged in harassment of the most prominent opposition politicians in order to find ways to keep them from running in the next election.
Will all of these setbacks for the Kabila regime guarantee that he will be out of power after the November 2016 election. Everyone seems to agree that he will not be a candidate. But there are many ways for the regime to delay the election, including financial insufficiency, administrative snafus, and outright intimidation. It will require vigilance on the part of the international community to make sure that the DRC’s constitution is fully observed.