As predicted, the first round of elections in the DRC hasn’t produced a candidate with the majority of votes for President. Joseph Kabila came close, but wasn’t able to avoid a run-off, tallying 44.8% of the 17 million reported votes. The run off will be held on the 29th of October, pitting Kabila against Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, who received 20.03% of the vote.
The announcement of results was accompanied by a gunfight between supporters of Kabila and Bemba in Kinshas – the UN reports five were killed in the shooting. So far, violence has been extremely limited, and finger are crossed throughout the nation that the run-off means an opportunity for political alliances, rather than for armed clashes.
There’s a strong regional component to the results – President Kabila received massive support in eastern DRC – 97% of the vote in Bukavu, for instance – where he’s viewed as the key figure in ending the conflicts that have devestated much of eastern DRC. But in Kinshasa, Kabila received 17% of the vote, as compared to 51% for Bemba. Kabila, a Swahili-speaker who grew up in Tanzania, is dismissed as “not Congolese” by some of Bemba’s Lingala-speaking supporters.
As alliances form before the runoff, Bemba’s coalition is uniting under the theme “Tout Sauf Kabila” – anyone but Kabila. The alliance is united by more than opposition to Kabila – they are likely to rally under the slogan, “Let us save Congo from the East-West partition,” believing that a Kabila victory will lead towards an inevitable geographic split, given Kabila’s unpopularity in the west, which might make the capital ungovernable if he were to win. Jonathan Edelstein, analyzing the situation on Head Heeb, suggests that the coalition-building process favors Bemba:
In other words, even though Bemba starts the runoff race far behind, Kabila is widely despised outside his base of support in the east, which will handicap him in winning key endorsements. His first-round performance, even though just short of a majority, may represent a maximum as well as a minimum.
The Malau, weighing in at The Salon, will be relieved that Kabila did not win the first round outright, “.. a true possibility, and one that I currently refuse to consider, because I fear it would mean Hell breaking loose on Congo.” But he doesn’t see an easy task ahead for either Bemba or Kabila:
Both coalitions seem to have to contend with the same reality: the need to overcome the apparent East/West divide in the country. Any future President will need to have the capacity to command respect, and have authority, in both sides, and that is a feat that so far, neither of the two front-runners have done very well.
In the meantime, external events could further complicate the situation. General Aronda Nyakirima of the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces is threatening incursions into eastern DRC to uproot the Lord’s Resistance Army if peace talks in Southern Sudan between Kony and Kampala collapse. Incursions from Rwanda to uproot Hutu militamen was one of the proximate causes of the last major war in the eastern DRC – incursions from Uganda would likely force MONUC to engage Ugandan troops, and would destabilize the fragile peace in the east and badly complicate the next round of voting. It might also erode some of Kabila’s popularity in the east, given the connection between his success and his reputation for peacemaking.
Another critical factor will be the results from parliamentary elections in DRC, not due for weeks to come. Once the composition of the National Assembly becomes more clear, momentum may be more obvious for Bemba or Kabila, forcing the other into more complicated alliances to attempt to win a run-off.
A new story from the BBC suggests that there’s been more violence in Kinshasa, though reports are confused and confusing. It also includes an electoral map that shows how sharp the Kabila/TSK split is…
Meanwhile, The Malau recommends an excellent article in the South Africa Mail and Guardian by Stephanie Wolters, former editor in chief of Radio Okapi. She agrees that a run-off election is probably preferable to an outright Kabila victory, and shares an interesting bit of insight about winning and governing:
Bemba, a former rebel leader, has the advantage of having won support in areas that he has already governed. Kabila, on the other hand, has been most successful in areas that have little experience of his rule. He has the least support in Kinshasa, a city that has been his home since 1997, but whose residents have grown tired of the president and his cronies.