DRC: Background to the 1965 election

Extracted from: "Democratic Republic of Congo" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 65-66.

A series of negotiations between politicians to restore political stability and peace culminated into the elaboration of a new constitution, better known as the Constitution de Luluabourg or the 1964 Constitution. It was approved by referendum, which took place from 25 June to 10 July 1964. The new constitution established a federalist structure and a presidential system, ending the bicephalisme or system by which the executive power is shared between two heads, the state president and the prime minister. The country was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo. The number of provinces was increased from 6 to 21. The Luluabourg Constitution made provision for the automatic dissolution of the parliament upon its promulgation. Then the only remaining central authority would be the President of the Republic who would appoint a transitional government of, at the most, 19 members. The new government would have the task of organising general elections within a period of six to nine months following the promulgation of the Constitution.

In June 1964 Kasavubu appointed Tshombe, the leader of the Katanga secession, as the interim prime minister, pending elections. The new government had actually two tasks, namely the organisation of elections by April 1965 and ending the rebellion in eastern Congo. By early 1965, the rebellion was defeated by the national army, which was reinforced with elements of Tshombe's former Gendarmerie Katangaise as well as some units of the South Kasaï army, assisted by Belgian troops and white mercenaries.

In 1964 when the Tshombe government announced the organisation of parliamentary elections by 30 March in conformity with the Luluabourg Constitution, this caused a split among politicians. Some claimed that there could not be elections before a reconciliatory roundtable of all political parties, including the rebels, had taken place. The defenders of this view also made the holding of elections conditional upon the guarantee of free electoral campaigning and the liberation of political prisoners, the most prominent among the nationalist prisoners being PSA's Antoine Gizenga, considered as Lumumba's heir. Others differed and argued that elections should precede the reconciliatory roundtable to avoid a situation where the State President would have to run the country beyond his term of office. Nevertheless, the government proceeded with elections as planned.