DRC: Elections under the Second Republic (continued)

Extracted from: "Democratic Republic of Congo" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 68-70.

Presidential elections were preceded by legislative elections. These scheduled for 1980, took place in October 1977 due to the above developments, and candidates were less subject to the scrutiny of the single party than previously. Thus 2 074 candidates contested the election for 270 seats (reduced from 540) and 11 200 608 voters took part in the election.

Though some of the successful candidates were known to be close former collaborators of Mobutu, their election could be interpreted as voters' recognition of their efforts to alleviate the population's deep socio-economic hardship, through their involvement in agricultural activities in their provinces. Some independent-minded entered into parliament through these elections and became pivotal in the struggle for a true democratic dispensation in the then Zaïre. They challenged the government by resorting to the interpellation of ministers, through which they drew attention to the regime's corruption. Thirteen MPs sent a 52 page open letter to President Mobutu in which they criticised the regime's autocratic conduct, and demanded the holding of a national conference aimed at democratising the country's institutions. Considering this action as an intolerable act of defiance, the regime stripped the 13 MPs who had signed the letter of their parliamentary immunity and imprisoned them. Shortly after their release, following pressures from international human rights organisations, the "group of 13" formed the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) on 15 January 1982. Among the most prominent members of this group was Etienne Tshisekedi. Throughout the 1980s, UDPS leaders and supporters were constantly harassed, arrested, molested, sent into internal exile and even killed.

Learning "lessons" from the emergence of the opposition from within the legislature, the regime reduced substantially the powers of the legislative institution. For example, no minister could be interpellated by the parliament without prior authorisation of the President of the Republic. Hence the interpellation of ministers came to an end. Moreover, for the 1982 national legislative elections candidates had to undergo a meticulous scrutiny by the MPR structures in order to separate "the wheat from the chaff", before being endorsed by the MPR.

With parliament's emasculation, the 1982 elections were a senseless ritual as the electorate was by now indifferent. Similarly, in July 1984 Mobutu, still unopposed, was re-elected President for another 7-year term and was inaugurated in December.

The last national legislative elections under the party-state system took place in September 1987. In Kinshasa, where the natives of the Bandundu and Bas-Congo provinces constitute the bulk of the population, candidates from these two provinces won 11 of the 12 seats. Arguing that the results of the elections should reflect equitably the demographic composition of the capital-city, the regime scheduled partial national legislative elections for Kinshasa in order to "correct the imbalances". Twelve additional seats were allocated to candidates from the other 9 provinces that had lost the September elections, each province having been granted an arbitrary quota. The doubling of parliamentary seats for the representatives of Kinshasa did not in fact relate in any way to the size of the population of Kinshasa. These supplementary elections took place on 10 April 1988 with any candidates from the Bas-Congo and Bandundu provinces excluded as they were already "over-represented" after the "first round" of the elections.