US says it expects Congo’s president not to seek third term

Democratic-Republic-of-Congo-President-Joseph-Kabila
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila

The United States reminded Congo’s President Joseph Kabila on Thursday that he is prohibited from seeking a third term and the Trump administration expects him to abide by the constitution.

U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the Security Council the United States regrets that Kabila didn’t use his July 19 address to Parliament “to resolve the uncertainty regarding his intentions.”

“We are a mere five months away from election day,” he said. “The time for posturing is over.”

The vast, mineral-rich nation is under pressure to ensure fair elections on Dec. 23 amid concerns that Kabila, who has been in office since 2001, will try to run again or hold on to power. His second term ended in late 2016 but he has remained in office because of delays in holding elections, which have already sparked deadly protests.

Congo’s U.N. Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita made no mention of Kabila’s intention, noting only that registration for presidential and legislative candidates opened Wednesday and ends on Aug. 8.

He claimed that there is international interference in the electoral process without giving any details.

Now that electoral preparations are sufficiently advanced, Gata Mavita said, the government expects all Congolese parties as well as “international partners who often undertake myriad interference-related initiatives” to support the election process “constructively through positive actions.”

By contrast, he said, the government “appreciates the support of regional partners such as SADC,” the initials of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community which Congo belongs to.

Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy for Congo, told the council by video from Kinshasa that the elections “continue to generate great expectations, both among the Congolese people and among the international community,” and will hopefully increase stability in Congo and throughout the region.

“Although significant progress has been achieved in meeting the critical steps set out in the (electoral) schedule, the electoral process remains a source of suspicion and mistrust between the majority and the opposition, and between the opposition and the electoral commission,” she said.

Zerrougui said opposition grievances include the government’s decision to use electronic voting machines, the electoral registry, and the membership of the electoral commission.

Cohen, the U.S. envoy, urged the electoral commission to switch from untested voting machines to “trusted” paper ballots.

“Deploying more than 100,000 unfamiliar, untested, and possibly unworkable electronic voting machines for the first time during a critical national election poses an enormous and unnecessary risk,” he said. “What do Congolese authorities plan to do if these untested voting machines malfunction on election day and jeopardize the credibility of the results? Is there a backup plan? And if so, what is it?”

Congo’s Gata Mavita said the electoral commission held an “awareness raising campaign” on technical and operational issues to boost trust and allay doubts about the election, and there was a specific focus on the voting machines.

He stressed that the machine will not vote — it will only register the choices of the voter so it is “unjustly called a voting machine.”