Is Kabila angling for a third term?

The ruling coalition in the Democratic Republic of Congo is on the verge of collapse due to growing opposition to efforts by President Joseph Kabila to seek a third term.
In the last two weeks, President Kabila has expelled seven senior political figures from the ruling coalition for writing a letter asking him to respect the constitution and ensure that the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for November 2016 are held on time. Furthermore, twenty members from a group of seven opposition political parties popularly known as G-7 this week withdrew their support for the ruling coalition on grounds that President Kabila—who came to power in in 2001—has refused to publicly declare whether he intends to change the constitution and go for a third term.
The G-7 with 78 MPs joined president Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) after the 2011 to give the ruling party unassailable majority. The ruling coalition still maintains a majority in the 349-member parliament, but which analyst says could be eroded as more members join the anti-third term campaign. However, the DRC charge d’affaires to Kenya, Michel Mubare, told Africa Review that the ruling coalition still enjoys the majority in parliament and that President Kabila has maintained that he will respect the constitution.
“The president has been holding a national dialogue on the issues affecting the country including preparations for election. According to the constitution, he is not supposed to contest the 2016 and the opposition are taking the issue out of proportion,” he said.
Provincial elections
Yet, President Kabila has also sacked two ministers – Presidential Security Aiser Pierre Lumbi and Planning Minister Olivier Kamitatu – for signing the letter asking him to respect the constitution. Mr Kamitatu is a powerful former close ally of the president, whose sacking the opposition sees as a determination to hung on to power.
Mr Lumbi is the leader of the Social Movement for Renewal (MSR), the second-largest group in the ruling coalition and which is made up of youthful former civil society activists with considerable grassroots influence.
The backlash over the controversial third term also saw Civil Service Minister Jean-Claude Kibala and Land Affairs Minister Bolengetenge Balela, resign from their after failing to sign a loyalty pledge to the ruling coalition.
The main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) led by veteran opposition politician Etienne Tshisekedi, has also withdrawn from the national dialogue. UDPS was the only opposition party that agreed to take part in the dialogue called by President Kabila early in the year.
The president has been focusing more on provincial elections which his critics say is likely to consume more time and resources before the presidential elections. The government has stated that it is yet to figure out where the $1.1billion needed for the 2016 elections will come from.
The DRC leader has also increased the number of provinces from 11 to 26, a move opposed by the president’s close allies from his mineral-rich Katanga province.
But sources from Goma told Africa Review that more worrying to the opposition is the recent ruling by the constitutional court that the timetable for the provincial and presidential elections need to be reviewed due to a number of challenges.
Street demonstrations
The challenges cited by the constitutional court include: the lack of resources to finance the elections, the process of creating 15 new provinces, the time and resource-consuming provincial elections that have not been held for over ten years, and the registration of those who have attained the age of 18 years since 2011.
The constitutional court also ruled that the 15 new provinces will be temporarily governed by special commissioners appointed by the president—instead of elected governors—a move seen as further empowering the incumbent.
But Mr Mubare argued that the fact that the court has provided mechanisms on how to govern the new provinces is an indication that provincial elections will not be held and that the people of DRC should not fear that presidential elections will be postponed.
Yet, President Kabila has been cracking down on those who aance the debate on the third term, giving room for the opposition to speculate that he is essentially scheming to change the constitution and run again.
A number of the protestors who were arrested during the many street demonstrations against the third term that have taken place since January have been jailed.
A US State Department spokesperson, John Kirby, on Tuesday said that arrests, detentions, and convictions of political activists against President Kabila’s third term have a chilling effect on freedom of organisation, assembly, and expression in the DRC.
“It is particularly important that the government protect these constitutionally accorded and internationally recognised rights during this period of active campaigning and public political debate as the DRC prepares for elections,” said Mr Kirby.