The long walk to free and fair elections in DR Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is set to hold its elections in December 2023. This will be its fourth election after the democratic transition of 2003-2006. The upcoming elections are taking place in a complex political and social context. Marred by history of violence, elections in DR Congo have largely fallen short of being free and fair with serious integrity deficits, begging a question of whether the 2023 elections will be any different from the previous ones. The answer indeed, though not the magic bullet lies in reforming of the electoral laws and the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

Election observers and pro-democracy actors believe that a credible 2023 electoral process can significantly contribute to peace if it reflects free expression and will of the citizens and substantially undermines armed groups of justifications for violence.

Whereas comprehensive election reform is necessary ahead of the election, with less than 6 months to December, it is most unlikely to be achievable but there have been proposals floated ahead of the polls. Secrets Known looks at some of the proposals that could have significant impact on the integrity of the elections.

The proposal to have a second round in the presidential election, in case no majority vote has been arrived at is one of such considered significant. As it currently stands, the presidential election takes place in one round and the president can be elected with even less than 50% of national votes.

Another proposal entailed in the reforms is the abolishing of the electoral threshold that provides for the minimum number of votes that a candidate must obtain to win a seat in parliament. Political parties to qualify to compete in national election will be required to present candidates in 60% of electoral districts. This is meant to cure the problem of the many small parties winning seats in Parliament. In addition, is the proposal for governors to be directly elected by citizens to improve political accountability to the electorate.

There have been other progressive proposals made such as putting in place coherent legal provisions on campaign financing, providing timelines for settling electoral disputes; tougher penalties on vote buying, electoral fraud, abuses of position and corruption.

The trust in the Independent National Electoral Commission (Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante or CENI) remains a major concern to many Congolese. Its past performance creates doubt of an electoral process that will be devoid of integrity shortcomings. Among the proposals, there have been calls to restructure CENI ahead of the December 2023 elections. The composition, functioning and financing of CENI are among the areas that require reforming. This though appears unlikely as Secrets known has observed that the current Independent National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Denis Kadima is under the control of President Tshisekedi who also intends to contest.

As the clock ticks, the desired free and fair elections in DR Congo come December 2023 remains a long walk dependant on reforming the electoral process. The elephant in the room is- Is President Felix Tshisekedi who is also an incumbent candidate willing to take that walk?

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