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Voters select president, National Assembly, local legislators

November 28, 2011 - DR CONGO

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its 500-member National Assembly will be elected for a five-year mandate by a simple majority in a single round. The term will be renewable once. The process reflects recent controversial changes. Anticipating that the election might be anything but peaceful, the United Nations has extended its peacekeeping mission to the recovering but still violence-prone nation of 90 million. President Joseph Kabila is widely expected to run again.

It will be the second national election for the vast resource-rich country since a 2003 peace deal ended five years of fighting that killed millions of people. The UN force, MONUSCO, is now scheduled to stay at least until 30 Jun 2012. In the country's Orientale province in the north, members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) continue to threaten civilians during cross-border movements between the DR Congo, the Central African Republic and Southern Sudan. DR Congo has become notorious for the widespread sexual abuse of women and young girls.

The constitutional changes enacted by Kabila eliminate the multi-round run-off vote system used during the 2006 elections. Under the new procedure, the candidate with the largest percentage of votes -; even if that proportion is less than 50 percent -; would win the seat. The government defends the change as a measure to cut election costs. Opposition parties reject it as a threat to national unity.

President Joseph Kabila's party is Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et le Developpement (PPRD). According to a United States government background report on the election, the two main coalitions in the election are the Alliance pour la Majorite Presidentielle (AMP), representing Kabila, and the Union pour la Nation (UN), representing former Transitional Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba. Bemba was Kabila's principal opponent in the 2006 presidential election. Though incarcerated and awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Bemba is still the president of the largest single opposition party, Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC).

Other likely Kabila challengers include: Elie Kapend, the leader of a Katangan secessionist movement known as the Tigers; former National Assembly Speaker Vital Kamerhe of the new Congolese National Union (UNC) party; aging Mobutu opponent Etienne Tshisekedi of the Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS). The former rebel group Congres National pour la Defense du Peuple (CNDP) has received official status as a political party for the election.

The most pressing challenge is the registration of millions of voters spread across the vast Central African nation, which is roughly the size of Europe but desperately lacking in basic infrastructure. Logistical shortfalls could lead to voter apathy. If the political and security situation remains relatively stable, the European Union is likely to send In election observers and to help fund the election. (WRITTEN Jul 2011)

EU, DR Congo Sign Elections Funding Agreement (Congo Planet 25 Jun 2011)

DR Congo passes election law, more hurdles ahead (Reuters 15 Jun 2011)

Deadly gunfight in DR Congo mining capital Lubumbashi (BBC 29 Jun 2011)

Background Note: Democratic Republic of the Congo (US govt. 13 Apr 2011)

Date written/update: 2011-11-28