Electoral Process at ‘Cruise Speed’, Kinshasa Representative Says, amid Special Representative Relief that President Will Not Seek Further Term
With fewer than four months remaining until critical elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Security Council members today urged that country’s Government to resolve outstanding disputes, build trust among the participating parties and avoid any actions that could jeopardize the nation’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power.
In particular, speakers welcomed President Joseph Kabila’s decision not to seek a third term in office and the Kinshasa Government’s decisive leadership in funding and organizing the upcoming elections. However, some voiced concern over its refusal to accept assistance from the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and reports that both opposition voices and peaceful protests have been suppressed.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of MONUSCO, briefed the Council, outlining the tangible progress made in the lead‑up to the elections. Noting that 6 of the 25 candidates put forward during the nomination phase were disqualified — including former Vice‑President Jean-Pierre Bemba — she cautioned that any impression that the Independent National Electoral Commission has overstepped its remit risks undermining the whole electoral process. While MONUSCO is ready to assist if requested to do so, the Government has indicated that it does not desire any external support, she said. The parties must “iron out any differences”, she added, declaring: “With less than four months to go […] it is clear that the required level of confidence and consensus around key issues still need to be built.”
Marcel Utembi, President of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, also cited progress that would hopefully lead to elections taking place in a peaceful climate and a spirit of patriotism. Pressing the Government to respect the 31 December 2016 Saint‑Sylvestre political agreement, he voiced concern that any bias in the electoral process will keep the Democratic Republic of the Congo mired in crisis. Citing the lack of consensus around the use of voting machines and de‑escalation measures, among other challenges, he recommended that the Independent National Electoral Commission quickly publish the list of positions up for election and promote dialogue among the presidential majority, the opposition as well as national and international experts. For its part, the National Episcopal Conference plans to deploy more than 1,000 election observers and supports efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to achieve peace in the country, he said.
Solange Lwashiga Furaha, Spokesperson for the non‑governmental organization Rien Sans Les Femmes, recalled the participation of Congolese women in the 2006 elections as voters, observers, candidates and witnesses. Between 2011 and 2018, however, the motivation of women candidates dropped due to the lack of financial and political resources as well as issues around identity cards. Noting that her organization’s goal is to achieve gender equality in decision‑making at all levels, she recalled its petition to Parliament — with some 23,000 signatories — requesting the lifting of obstacles to women’s participation. Nevertheless, current electoral lists reveal a low percentage of women, with many people remaining reticent about women voting, and fear persisting over the potential for gender‑based violence before, during and after the voting.
As Council members took the floor, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate urged all parties to refrain from intimidation or provocative acts that could stoke violence. “Congolese stakeholders must set common goals that will move the country forward,” he emphasized. In addition, the Government must promptly address all doubts related to the use of voting machines — among other outstanding challenges — and avail itself of support from partners and work to enhance confidence‑building measures among the parties.
France’s representative described the upcoming elections as a “watershed”, and a chance for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to recommit to a path of peace. The election must take place in a climate of trust, she stressed, calling for the lifting of the general ban on protests, the inclusion of women and the release of political prisoners, in accordance with the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement. She joined other speakers in voicing concern that escalating insecurity in the country’s Kasaï region — and the recent Ebola outbreak, which the Council plans to discuss this week — could hamper the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections.
Meanwhile, the representative of the United States welcomed President Kabila’s decision not to seek a third term, declaring: “History will look favourably on President Kabila’s decision if it translates to free and credible elections.” However, she expressed concerns about several important logistical issues, including those relating to electronic voting machines, saying the Government should permit MONUSCO to provide support. Such assistance does not insult the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty, but its acceptance of humanitarian assistance from outside partners — but not of electoral support — raises suspicions.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said his country’s electoral process has reached its “cruise speed” and is approaching its destination. While the Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission have made enormous efforts, some scepticism remains about voting machines, and a campaign to raise awareness on their use is now under way. Noting that the Electoral Commission is working to fulfil recommendations by the International Organization of la Francophonie, which conducted an audit of the electoral process, he said the disqualification of some candidates was decided on the basis of their not having fulfilled legal requirements. However, the Government is open to support from partners as long as it comes without preconditions and respects the country’s sovereignty, he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of Peru, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, China, Poland, Sweden, Bolivia, Kuwait and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:54 a.m.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), briefed the Council via videoconference from Kinshasa, outlining the tangible progress made in terms of respecting the electoral calendar in the lead‑up to the elections planned for 23 December 2018. All major parties have now submitted candidates, she said, noting that the nomination phase saw President Joseph Kabila committing to refrain from running for an additional term of office. Instead, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is the candidate for the President’s party, she noted. However, during the same phase, 6 of the 25 nominated candidates — including former Vice‑President Jean‑Pierre Bemba — were disqualified for various reasons. To date, there are 19 candidates for the presidential election, and the proportion of women candidates in provincial, national and presidential races stands at around 12 per cent — the same figure as in 2011, she added.
According to MONUSCO’s mandate, the Mission stands ready to support the Independent National Electoral Commission if requested to do so, she continued, emphasizing, however, that the Government has indicated that it does not desire such help, and that the country wishes to hold elections without any external support. Intense political consultations are now under way, with the Independent National Electoral Commission accused of having exceeded its remit by excluding some candidates. Appeals on that matter are also under way and a definitive list of the candidates is anticipated in mid‑September, she said, encouraging all parties to join constructive approaches and to “iron out any differences”. She stressed that the perceived credibility of the electoral process remains a critical concern. “Any impressions that the [Independent National Electoral Commission] may have gone beyond its remit in the implementation of the electoral law in determining the eligibly of candidates to stand in the elections would only undermine confidence in the process as a whole,” she cautioned.
Calling for the meaningful inclusion of women, she warned that continued instances of targeted repression and intimidation of political activists and human rights defenders in some provinces, as well as other restrictions on political space, do not engender confidence. She also called for the lifting of the general ban on public demonstrations and for upholding the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are crucial to meaningful progress as the elections draw closer. “With less than four months to go now before the holding of the elections, it is clear that the required level of confidence and consensus around key issues still need to be built,” she said. In particular, failure to allow for political engagement and participation, as foreseen by the constitution, could jeopardize the peaceful nature and credibility of the elections, she warned, urging all parties — especially the authorities — to ensure that the polls are conducted in a credible manner, thereby allowing for the peaceful transfer of power.
MARCEL UTEMBI, President, National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, describing the progress made in the electoral process, cited the registration of candidates for the legislative and presidential elections, which, hopefully, would be held in a peaceful climate and in the spirit of patriotism. Pressing the Government to respect the Saint‑Sylvestre political agreement, he welcomed actions taken by the President, political stakeholders, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Congolese people in contributing to a peaceful process. Recalling that the Government had committed to financing the process, he encouraged the authorities to continue those efforts within a time frame that will guarantee the holding of elections on 23 December. “Our hopes were ephemeral, as the process had not yet led to inclusive, transparent elections being held,” he said, stressing that if the elections were biased the country would remain in crisis. Unless such concerns are considered, the lack of clarity around the situation will cause grave problems, he warned, citing the absence of consensus around the use of voting machines and de‑escalation measures, among other issues.
He went on to emphasize that the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Government must quickly publish the list of offices up for election, reach consensus around the use of voting machines, and promote talks among the Commission, the presidential majority and the opposition, as well as with national and international experts. He pressed the Government in particular to ensure full implementation of the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement — especially in the application of de‑escalation measures — to prevent any misinterpretation of the law, or the arbitrary application of laws to certain candidates, and to facilitate electoral observation involving national and international organizations with the relevant experience. The National Episcopal Conference planned to deploy more than 1,000 observers over the long term and many more in the short term, he said, expressing “high hopes” for the involvement of the international community, especially the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in helping the Democratic Republic of the Congo achieve a peaceful end to the national crisis.
SOLANGE LWASHIGA FURAHA, Spokesperson, Rien Sans Les Femmes, recalling women’s participation in the 2006 elections as voters, observers, candidates and witnesses, said there had been a great deal of hope for participatory governance. Some 52 per cent of women had enrolled, and despite being represented by less than 15 per cent of the number of candidates, they had experienced “a great deal” of opportunities to realize their rights as citizens because both national and international stakeholders had played a key role in mobilizing women, notably through MONUSCO. Between 2011 and 2018, however, the motivation of women candidates fell due to the lack of financial and political resources, and issues around identity cards, which prevented some women from presenting themselves as candidates. Women are only represented at 18 per cent in dialogues organized by the African Union, a process in which women candidates number fewer than 15 per cent, she noted.
The goal of Rien Sans Les Femmes is to achieve gender equality in decision‑making at all levels, she continued, pointing out that, in one of its first actions, the organization sent a petition with 23,000 signatories to Parliament asking for the lifting of obstacles to women’s participation. However, the National Assembly’s response was not encouraging, she said, pointing out the low percentage of women on current electoral lists. Some joined political parties at the last minute, with some parties only accepting women reluctantly, she said. Furthermore, most people were reticent in relation of women voting, and there was a lack of resources for such efforts, and for encouraging voters to elect women. She also expressed concern about the refusal to accredit domestic and international experts to monitor the elections, citing fears over the Government’s ability to guarantee national security, the potential for gender‑based violence before, during and after the polls, and whether the elections would be free and fair to ensure acceptance of the outcome.
Urging the Council to press the Government to ensure free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections, bearing in mind resolution 1325 (2000), as well as to understand the international community’s role in ensuring their credibility, she said the Council should also ensure women’s participation in decision‑making. It should ensure that financial support is provided for raising awareness and training observers. The Government, for its part, must reassure the Congolese people that the December 2018 elections will be held, and guarantee women’s security before, during and after the polls, she stressed. The law on the funding of political parties must be followed, she added, underlining also the importance of establishing the Interministerial Committee and the National Gender Equality Council.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) emphasized that, with fewer than four months until the planned elections, “we are in fact running out of time”. Welcoming the President’s decision not to seek a third term, she said “history will look favourably on President Kabila’s decision, if it translates to free and credible elections”. Voicing concerns over several important logistical issues, including those related to electronic voting machines, she said the Government should permit MONUSCO to provide support. The use of paper ballots should also be permitted as a “tried and tested” method that would provide a fail‑safe to voters. Questioning whether it is realistic or necessary for the Government to carry out the elections without outside assistance, she said “it does not insult the [Democratic Republic of the Congo]’s sovereignty for the [Independent National Electoral Commission] to access support from MONUSCO”. The Government’s continuing acceptance of humanitarian assistance from many States, but not election support, raises suspicion, she said, while expressing concern over the disqualification of several opposition candidates. There must be space for them to speak and compete freely, she stressed, noting that there is still time to resolve such issues. “These problems are fixable,” she reiterated.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), describing the upcoming elections as a “watershed” and a chance for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to recommit to the path of peace, said it also represents a responsibility on the part of all stakeholders. The elections must take place in a climate of trust, she said, calling for the lifting of the general ban on protests, the inclusion of women and the release of political prisoners, in accordance with the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement. Respect for the electoral calendar is also critical, she said, welcoming the progress made in publishing the list of candidates as well as President Kabila’s decision not to seek another term. A critical next step is for the Constitutional Court of Appeal to review complaints submitted by disqualified candidates, she added. While welcoming Kinshasa’s decision to take charge of financing and logistics for the elections, she nevertheless stressed that MONUSCO stands ready to offer further technical support and has the means to do so. Meanwhile, humanitarian and security challenges, especially in the Kasaï region, could hamper the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections, she warned, pointing out that the situation is all the more fragile in light of the recent Ebola outbreak.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) emphasized the importance of setting a deadline for the auditing of voting machines, and of making alternative plans in case they did not function properly. Commending the proposal to organize a team of independent technical experts, he said the Government can outline any support it needs in that regard to MONUSCO. Also, the voters list must be published swiftly to ensure the necessary level of trust, he emphasized, expressing disappointment that legislation on confidence‑building measures has not been considered. Peru encourages the redoubling of efforts to include women in the electoral process, both as candidates and voters, he said, stressing that their participation will contribute decisively to building a sustainable future.
ALEXANDER A. VOLGAREV (Russian Federation), noting that timely elections on 23 December would lower political tensions, said he took note of Kinshasa’s measures related to the publication of the list of candidates. An audit of the electoral list was carried out under the auspices of the International Organization of la Francophonie, he said, adding that he is encouraged that political parties have agreed to follow a code of conduct and that the registration of candidates was completed recently. Noting that a candidate from the platform for Common Front for Congo has been chosen, he encouraged opposition parties to refrain from pushing a negative agenda. To avoid problems, Kinshasa must guarantee sustainable financing for the elections, he said, drawing attention to the logistical possibilities that MONUSCO can offer in that regard. He encouraged all opposition parties to work with the Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission, stressing also the need to respect national sovereignty. The protection of civilians must be carried out in accordance with peacekeeping principles and without meddling in internal State affairs, he stressed, reiterating the critical importance of resolving the root causes of the crisis and of fighting illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
KAREL J. G. VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) joined other speakers in welcoming President Kabila’s decision not to seek a third term, as well as other progress such as the creation of additional provincial courts of appeal. However, much more remains to be done to ensure that the upcoming elections are conducted in a free, transparent and credible manner, he emphasized. All parties should commit to dialogue to resolve outstanding challenges related to electoral lists, voting machines, the electoral budget and logistics. Urging all parties to adhere to the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement, he stressed that all candidates must be able to participate under equal conditions. Noting that six candidates have been deemed ineligible so far, he called for restraint by all parties until their appeals processes are concluded. He also expressed concern over the low level of participation by women — “a setback in the region” — pointing out that some races have no female candidates at all. The international community must step up its support for the electoral process, especially in light of the recent Ebola outbreak, which risks escalating into a new humanitarian crisis, he warned, adding that the Council’s visit in October will demonstrate its commitment to helping the Democratic Republic of the Congo address its challenges.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) welcomed President Kabila’s recent announcement that he will not seek re‑election as an important step towards a peaceful transition of power. Noting the importance of organizing fair, transparent and inclusive elections, he stressed that a nationally owned process should be held, with full respect for the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Welcoming the efforts of the national authorities and the Independent National Electoral Commission to prepare for the elections, he noted their contribution towards ensuring that all participants of the political process settle their disputes peacefully. Further efforts must be made to establish a constructive and inclusive inter‑Congolese dialogue in order to achieve political progress and to build confidence in the electoral process.
LIE CHENG (China) pressed the Security Council to support efforts by the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, as well as regional countries, to play a leading role in mediation, and in helping to enhance engagement among political parties. The focus should be on the Government’s ownership of the political process, he said, emphasizing the need to implement the 31 December 2016 Saint‑Sylvestre agreement, and to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. MONUSCO should, within its mandate, strengthen consultations with Kinshasa, he added, emphasizing that his delegation supports African countries in seeking African solutions. China has participated in peacekeeping operations within, and provided humanitarian assistance to, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he pointed out.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said timely elections are crucial to ensuring stabilization, and called upon the Government, the Independent National Electoral Commission and others to work together towards holding the polls on 23 December, with full respect for the Constitution and for the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement. Cooperation with civil society, notably women’s representatives, and their involvement in the electoral process is crucial, she said, calling also for the peaceful and timely transfer of power in January 2019, as set out in the electoral calendar. It is essential to implement the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement — including its provisions on confidence‑building measures and compliance with the electoral timeline — as is ensuring respect for human rights, she said.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden), welcoming President Kabila’s announcement that he will not seek another term in the upcoming elections, emphasized that efforts to ensure the full and equal participation of women in political processes must be stepped up, as it is disappointing that only a small number of women are registered as candidates for provincial and legislative elections. Technical preparations are not enough to secure free, fair and credible elections, he said, stressing that the current security situation must be urgently addressed to ensure open political space for all parties and civil society, and that the freedoms of speech and assembly are respected. The world expects credible and inclusive elections, leading to a democratic and peaceful transfer of power, he said, underling that United Nations support for the electoral process is critical.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) welcomed Kinshasa’s efforts to register candidates in an inclusive manner, its establishment of the Office for the Receipt and Management of Candidates, and the allocation of funds to the Independent National Electoral Commission. She said the international community must continue to bolster the Government’s capacity to overcome remaining challenges, including defusing tensions between parties, while ensuring full respect for the sovereignty and independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Calling for cooperation by all parties towards the holding of free and fair elections in which women and young people play an integral role, she said that societies that include them as principal actors are more likely to succeed in building lasting peace. Emphasizing that Congolese people and institutions will take critical decisions in shaping their own future, she called for greater efforts to address the root causes of the conflict in the country, including disputes over the management of natural resources and other critical issues.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) reiterated the issues spotlighted in the Council’s previous press statement on the issue, and encouraged the Congolese Government to request support from partners as needed, including in its first use of electronic voting machines. Meanwhile, all actors must ensure full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo — the “beating heart” of the continent — he added, urging regional stakeholders to step up support for the success of the electoral process.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), speaking on behalf of his own county, as well as Côte d’Ivoire and Ethiopia in his capacity as A3 Coordinator, expressed concern at the low number of female candidates, calling for redoubled efforts to bolster their inclusion. He urged all parties to refrain from intimidation or provocative acts that could stoke violence. “Congolese stakeholders must set common goals that will move the country forward,” he said, emphasizing that adherence to the electoral calendar is the sine qua non for the polls’ success. Implementing the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement remains the only way to create the conditions needed for the holding of free, fair and credible elections, he said, urging the Government to promptly address all doubts relating to the use of voting machines, among other outstanding challenges. In that regard, he expressed hope that the Government will avail itself of support and work to enhance confidence‑building measures among the parties.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity, registering disappointment that the Independent National Electoral Commission was unable to join today’s briefing. Saying that she shares the concerns expressed over women’s participation, she pointed out that there is nonetheless continuing progress on the electoral calendar and confirmation that the President will not seek a third term. “This is a critical step forward,” she said, noting that further progress will ensure that the December elections lead to the first‑ever peaceful transfer of power. However, there is a long way to go, she cautioned, declaring: “This is about creating the conditions for free and fair elections.” Calling for full implementation of the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement, including confidence‑building measures, she said the electoral process must address the concerns of civil society. Furthermore, the Independent National Electoral Commission must clarify election protocols to enable effective observation and resolution of issues around the voting machines. Noting the Commission’s rejection of MONUSCO’s logistical assistance, she requested that it either accept that help or clarify its logistical plan. She also expressed concern over the lack of confidence in the electoral process, expressed by several opposition parties, and underlined the importance of inclusive elections.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) apologized for the absence of the President of the Independent National Electoral Commission, noting that there is much work to be done ahead of the elections. The electoral process has evolved “sufficiently well”, with today marking the end of the period for submitting candidates, he said. The Independent National Electoral Commission received 19,437 candidates for the provincial elections, 15,222 for the legislative polls and 25 for the presidential vote. Pointing out that the current President has kept his word that he will respect the Constitution well before the beginning of the electoral process, he said the Independent National Electoral Commission has rendered ineligible six candidates who have not met the legal conditions for participation.
Indeed, the electoral process has reached its “cruise speed” and is approaching its destination, he said. Yet, despite enormous efforts by the Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission, some continue to voice scepticism and to ask questions about the voting machines. The Commission is aware of the misgivings and is carrying out a campaign to raise awareness on their use, involving civil society and now the rural population. He reiterated that the machines are wrongly labelled “voting machines” when their role is to print ballots that voters can place into a ballot box, he said, adding that the Independent National Electoral Commission can clarify the technical aspects of their use.
Turning to the question of 6 million potential registered voters without digital fingerprints, he said the Independent National Electoral Commission is working on the recommendations by the International Organization of la Francophonie audit for improving the electoral roll. In its conclusions, that body underscored that the status of the voters in question is not in jeopardy, he said, emphasizing that the audit itself was a result of the will demonstrated by the Kinshasa Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure transparency and credibility. On the financing question, he reiterated that the Government will ensure that elections take place on time and are financed by its own funds. It remains open to support from partners as long as it is without preconditions and respects Congolese sovereignty. In order to de‑escalate political tensions, the Government has freed “so‑called political prisoners”, meeting the demands of the Saint‑Sylvestre agreement.
He went on to clarify that “emblematic” cases concern people guilty of breaking common law, noting that the authorities are responsible for promoting the rule of law and cannot interfere in such situations without violating the Constitution and creating a “two‑speed” justice system. As for candidates whose dossiers were declared null and void, he said elections are organized on the basis of the electoral law, by which candidates must abide. Candidates who have not fulfilled their legal obligations are not allowed to run, but they can appeal to the relevant court before 19 September, he said. The Government asked them to respect the law and the Constitution, as the President did. Elections must take place in a transparent and calm climate, he said, pressing all stakeholders to abstain from comments that could increase tensions, and instead, to take a positive approach. The Government expects the same behaviour from its international partners, he said, adding that external interventions in the electoral process have delayed the elections, with the blame laid at the President’s door. Such lack of trust only engendered suspicion that the President would not respect the Constitution, a situation for which the international community shared responsibility, he said, urging the use of measured language.