Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila now wants to trade his exit with constitutional clemency as civil society groups raise the alarm over the new electronic voting technology ahead of the December 23 elections.
Reacting to intense pressure from the Southern African Development Community and Western countries led by the United States to leave power, President Kabila has now directed parliament to discuss the status of former presidents, including immunity from prosecution and benefits.
The lower House started its siting on June 27, to revisit a 2015 bill by its allies that sought to give immunity to former presidents, but which parliament did not debate the bill.
However, the Constitution provides a former president an automatic seat in the Senate.
The term of President Kabila — who came to power in 2001 following the assassination of his father — ended in December 2016, but was extended to December 2017 through a consensus agreement.
President Kabila then pushed the elections to December 2018 at the cost of $432 million, but civil society and pro-democracy movements now say that the electronic voting system does not allow ballot secrecy and is vulnerable to manipulation.
US-based human rights advocate group, The Enough Project says that the voting system is similar what was previously planned and ultimately rejected in the Argentina’s 2017 national elections.
Sasha Lezhnev, deputy director of policy at the Enough Project, says that the Congolese government is testing the will of the international community and Congolese civil society on electoral credibility by moving ahead with highly controversial electronic voting technology that poses potential security risks.
President Kabila has not openly stated that he will leave office, and that his intention to stay out of office was only broken by Prime Minister, Bruno Tshibala.
Also, the ruling coalition commonly known as the G7, is yet to name its presidential candidate to replace President Kabila as the elections draw near.
The Independent National Electoral Commission's rules require those wishing to contest the presidency in December to forward their names between July 25 and August 8.
John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry and founding director of the Enough Project, said:
“In order to influence Kabila's calculations on whether he runs again or not, the US and EU should impose escalating financial pressures on Kabila and his commercial collaborators in the form of network sanctions and anti-money laundering measures.
“A clear message needs to be sent that Kabila’s candidacy is not acceptable to the Congolese people, to the region and to the broader international community,” Mr Prendergast said.
President Kabila has been facing pressure from SADC countries, especially Angola and South Africa, to stay out of the elections.
Stephanie Wolters, the head of the division for conflict prevention and risk analysis at the Institute for Security Studies, said that it is highly likely that President Kabila has understood the pressure from the region that he should not vie for a third term.
Ms Wolters said that President Kabila is looking for a successor but that he will not be in a hurry to name one soon because there are so many people in his coalition who want that job, and announcing it too early will make his life more difficult to control other aspects of the elections.
“Whoever he designates, he will have to continue to be able to control from behind the scenes, not just in terms of not being pursued legally but also in terms of his ability to manipulate and control that person. These will determine who he chooses,” said Ms Wolters.
“Our investigation shows that civil society and opposition groups have good reason to be highly skeptical of the machines. The international community dissuade Kabila to ensure a credible electoral process by targeting his financial advisers and their companies with sanctions. The time to act is quickly closing,” said Mr Lezhnev.
“Those regional powers that are putting pressure on Kabila to go, especially Angola want stability. But the pressure does not come from just having a different presidential candidate, but also to ensure that the country has a credible election process,” said Ms Wolters.