Africa

Congo: Controversy Ahead of Legislative Elections

A campaign poster for the 2002 elections featuring President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Opposition parties are calling for greater transparency in the election process. (Photo: IRIN)

Barely two months before legislative elections in the Republic of Congo, a row is raging between the government and opposition over the composition of the electoral commission that will oversee the polls.

The national assembly, dominated by members of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso's party, in April adopted a motion stipulating that members of the independent electoral commission be nominated by presidential decree.

Motions brought by the opposition to ensure the commission is truly independent and to guard against executive interference in the electoral process have yet to be debated.

Opposition demands that electoral constituencies be reviewed have been rejected, prompting an opposition boycott of parliament. The law allowing the selection of electoral commissioners by presidential decree was passed without members of the opposition.

The cabinet had also decided on Feb. 13 that there was no need to sub-divide constituencies before the elections.

"We have justifiably asked for the review of constituencies in order to give everybody a fair chance," said Eugène Sama, spokesman for the opposition Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Développement (RDD), giving the example of the town of Nyaki, in the administrative division of Bouenza, which has nearly 80,000 inhabitants and is represented in parliament by a single member. On the other hand, Ollombo in Cuvette, with about 2,000 people, is represented by two deputies.

The opposition has argued that the Commission Nationales des Elections lacked independence and transparency. Other groups, including political parties allied to the president's Parti congolais du travail, and non-governmental organizations have also called for the creation of a truly independent electoral commission.

Demands for a New-Look Commission

Coordination d'appui au processus électoral (CAPE), an umbrella organization of civil society groups, has suggested creating an electoral commission whose members are selected by the state, political parties and civil society.

"We want to see the formation of this commission because we think it can guarantee free and fair elections in this country," said Roger Bouka Owoko, CAPE coordinator.

An independent electoral commission would also be expected to review electoral rolls, oversee the issuance of identity and voters' cards and the printing of ballot papers.

On April 24, the opposition and some political parties allied to the ruling majority held a rally in Brazzaville to call for the formation of an independent electoral commission. They have also asked the people to boycott a review of electoral lists that began on April 20. Legislative elections are scheduled for June 22 and July 24.

The parties have claimed that the voters' lists used in the 2002 elections were fraudulent and manipulated to ensure electoral victory for the ruling party.

The government has given no indication yet that it is likely to accede to opposition demands. The minister in charge of administration and decentralization, François Ibovi, appeared to dismiss the debate on the electoral commission, saying that parliament had already made a decision.

"The parliamentary opposition participated in the debate. There was dialogue. The opposition has to respect the legal procedures. Even if they had voted against it, they have to abide by the law," he said.

Government Accusations

The government has accused the opposition of trying to foment unrest.

"Violence does not have its place in the country any more," said Nguesso on May 2. "I hear that political groups talk about violence to destroy what we have built. If we have differences, we will have to find solutions through dialogue and the law. Nobody is allowed to instigate violence when we are talking about dialogue and consensus."

The head of the Rassemblement pour la démocratie et la république (RDR) party, Raymond Damase Ngollo, however, said the opposition did not intend to cause trouble.

"Why are these people afraid? We are simply asking the government to install a [fair] referee for these elections. It is for the future of our country. Without this commission, we do not know how to go to these elections whose results have already been decided," said Ngollo.

Violence has often broken out during elections in Congo. In June 1993, supporters of former president Pascal Lissouba, whose party refused to recognize a first round of the elections and boycotted the second round, took to the streets, provoking hostilities that resulted in civil war.

The current parliament, which has 137 members, was elected in 2002 in elections which, according to some observers and the opposition, were characterized by irregularities.

The 2002 elections were held in only six of 14 constituencies in the northwestern administrative division of Pool, which was then in a state of civil war, pitting the Congolese army against militias loyal to the rebel leader, Pastor Frédéric Bintsangou, alias Ntoumi. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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