The Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament has enacted a national election law after dropping a provision that many feared would delay next year’s presidential election and had sparked days of deadly protests.
Political tensions were eased and further demonstrations were called off after the Senate scrapped language in a version of the law approved earlier by the lower house that would have delayed the voting until a national census could be conducted.
Opposition leaders and some political activists charged that it was intended to delay the ballot and allow President Joseph Kabila to remain in power beyond the constitutionally set limit of two terms in office.
According to local and international human rights groups, dozens of people were killed in violent street clashes over several days of demonstrations, during which Congolese security forces allegedly fired live ammunition into crowds of protestors. There are reports that hundreds of individuals rounded up during the protests remain in detention.
Parliament approved the revised measure on January 25, and election plans will proceed concurrently with a national headcount.
The United States welcomes approval of the current electoral legislation, which sets the country on course toward timely elections in line with the DRC’s Constitution. We applaud the efforts of the National Assembly and the Senate to reach consensus and ensure that presidential elections take place by December 2016.
We urge President Kabila to expeditiously sign the bill as passed by the Parliament and reaffirm that Congo’s first peaceful transition of power will take place in 2016 . We also call upon the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) to promptly release a global electoral calendar that is in line with Parliament's vote and the Constitution.
The actions the DRC Parliament has taken today, along with President Kabila's expected signature, represent critical, albeit initial, steps toward national elections in 2016 and what could be the country’s first peaceful transfer of power in its almost 55 years since independence.
We encourage all Congolese stakeholders, including the government, opposition, and civil society, to use this opportunity to undertake a peaceful, transparent, and inclusive dialogue about the electoral process moving forward. We stand ready to support the DRC in this process.