SA pledges support for DRC electoral process

President Thabo Mbeki, who visited the DRC from 16-17 March, said it was in the best interest of southern Africa that lasting peace returns to the former Zaire. The Congolese go to the polls to elect a president and parliamentarians on 18 June in the first democratic polls in about 46 years. The last democratic elections were in 1960 when the country gained independence from Belgium. Successive attempts to hold democratic polls have faltered due to civil war and disagreements over the Constitution. “We need to respond in an appropriate manner so that the elections take place as planned,” said Mbeki. In talks with DRC’s President Joseph Kabila and opposition politicians, Mbeki renewed South Africa’s support for the Congolese electoral process and reiterated the need for security measures to be put in place to ensure the smooth flow of the voting process. The South African leader commended the people of DRC for their patience during the protracted delays in holding the polls and called upon the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to ensure the smooth administration of the electoral process. The road to the country’s electoral process started with a 2003 peace deal that ended years of civil war. The peace deal, signed by the belligerent forces in South Africa, ushered in a transitional government comprising former warring parties. The transitional government was given the mandate to organise elections within two years, that is until 30 June 2005. That deadline was later moved to 30 June this year to give the transitional leadership more time to come up with an acceptable new Constitution and electoral law. The new electoral law was promulgated by President Kabila on 9 February, signalling the final stage of the electoral process. There are, however, questions about the participation of two major opposition parties ‘ Union for Democracy and the Social Progress (UDSP) and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) ‘ after they threatened to boycott the polls. Veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi’s UDSP is demanding that the IEC should reopen registration centres to enable its candidates to file their nomination papers. UDPS also boycotted the 18 December referendum and the registration exercise that took place in November but only announced intentions to participate in the polls in January after both exercises were closed. The IEC advised Tshisekedi to register when filing applications papers due to time limitations and lack of resources. The RCD, led by Azarias Ruberwa, has also threatened to boycott the electoral process unless the three districts it created during the civil war are not taken into account as electoral constituencies. Ruberwa, who is one of the four vice presidents in the transitional government, boycotted the talks with Mbeki. President Mbeki was in DRC for a joint national commission and discussed modalities of how best the electoral process can be managed. ‘

April 2006
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