By Staff Reporter
LUSAKA- A DEFIANT Joseph Kabila has told the Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition to “come and sign the deal” that could see him extend his stay in power by two years.
The poorly-funded and resourced Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) says it cannot register some 30 million voters by December 18, when Kabila’s second and final term expires, which has prompted the 45-year-old to seek an extension until at least late 2017.
Kabila dissolved his government this week after a deal agreed last month with small splinter opposition forces following a “national dialogue” that was aimed at calming soaring political tensions. A new coalition government will be installed until the next elections, which DRC watchers say will be held in 2018 at the earliest, with the voter registration exercise not due to be complete until at least August 2017.
Leading opposition figures have so far boycotted the deal, accusing Kabila of trying to engineer a new term, which his party denies. Western countries, led by former colonial power France, have called on Kabila to leave power.
But in a defiant speech to Parliament on Tuesday, Kabila defied calls to step down and vowed to defend his government against violent overthrow. “The deal currently represents the only roadmap put in place by the Congolese themselves,” said Kabila during the speech to MPs in the capital Kinshasa.
As part of the deal, Augustin Matata resigned as Prime Minister on Monday to make way for an opposition figure to take his place.
The main opposition coalition “Rassemblement” (Gathering) – which has rallied around veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi – has rejected the deal and stepped up its calls for Kabila to leave office by December 19 when his term ends.
“The disinterest shown by some parties… is totally unacceptable,” said Kabila.
“The DRC cannot be taken hostage by the fringe of the political class,” he said as he called on the “Rassemblement” bloc to “come and sign the deal”.
He added that he was ready to defend against any attempt to take over the country by force, pledging that elections would be organised in the coming months. He blames the main opposition groups for recent deadly violence that rocked Kinshasa following massive street protests.
“No political agenda will justify violence, still less the loss of human life,” he said, before adding that, “Trying to take power by the blood of the Congolese people is morally condemnable.”
“’Rassemblement’ want to ensure the constitution is respected and are open to the idea of talks that could lead to a political compromise which is the only alternative to the current crisis,” said opposition lawmaker Delly Sessanga.
“We should not be trying to one-up each other and play the situation which everyone recognises is both fragile and difficult,” he added.
Kabila, in remarks aimed at Western countries including France and the United States, railed against foreign interference.
“The Congolese have shown that they can responsibly resolve their differences. I warn against and denounce all interference in Congolese affairs. Our country … has a right to have its sovereignty respected, and we will never give that up,” he vowed.
A United Nations Security Council team visited the country last week pushing for political concessions as tensions rise in the country.
The DRC, a sprawling country of 80 million people, has been in a state of crisis since disputed elections in 2011 returned Kabila to office for a second term.
A 2006 constitutional provision limits the presidency to two terms.
Violent anti-Kabila protests on September 19 and 20 triggered by the political instability claimed 53 lives, according to the UN.
Kabila took power in 2001, ten days after the assassination of his father, the then-president, Laurent Kabila.
Joseph Kabila was first elected to a five-year term as president in 2006. He then won a hotly disputed election against Tshisekedi in 2011.
Kabila’s critics believe his aim is to use the coalition to test the limits of how far he can go before changing the constitution in order to secure a third.
Communications Minister Lambert Mende told reporters that Kabila has pledged to respect the constitution.
“I have never stopped saying that the constitution will be respected and it excludes the possibility of a third term,” he said.
But he added: “This does not in any way remove the right of the Congolese, like all sovereign people, to modify the constitution in three, four or five years, if they so desire.”
As pressure mounts on Kabila, the government has taken a tougher line on media. Radio France International (RFI) and United Nations-funded Radio Okapi have both had their signals jammed for the past two weeks.
“Since (Radio Okapi) has systematically deviated from being a U.N. radio station to become a partisan station,” the government judged it to have violated its agreement, Mende told a news conference.
He accused RFI of “conveying false information,” forcing the authorities to “take provisional measures,” Mende said, without giving details. -Additional reporting by Reuters