Congo hopefuls consider coalitions

As officials sweat over auditing the results of the presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the politicians stay on familiar, albeit treacherous ground.

They share the curious quality of public representatives who, until July 30, had never faced an electorate. But this does not make them any less adroit than more conventional politicians at the bluff and double bluff of building coalitions.

The first official indications of the lie of the land could start trickling in by the weekend.

South Africa heads the DRC’s international friends pressing for the country to reduce the suspicion and mistrust attached to any election associated with delays in publishing results.

The bluster from the two major candidates—incumbent President Joseph Kabila and former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba—has changed little in the past week.

Fearing prosecution and the wrath of the international community by overtly pre-empting the official process, the candidates are maintaining a scrupulous official silence.

However, their supporters are not only claiming victory, but the 50% plus-one margin that will give their candidate an outright win and obviate the need for a second round.

There is no doubt that Kabila swept the east of the country. Bemba’s people, however, claim he has accomplished a similar runaway result in the area.

Quoting Vatican Radio, of all things, one newspaper reported that Bemba has palmed 54% of the vote.

But the most senior and reliable sources continue to warn against making unequivocal predictions before the votes from the central provinces have been through the compilation process.

At this stage, they say, Kabila is assured of 45% of the national vote. A decisive showing in one or two of the central provinces will tip him over the critical 50%.

The third favourite, Azarias Ruberwa, knows he is out of the running. Kabila upstaged him in what he believed was his eastern stronghold.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ruberwa’s strongest backer in the region, has left him in no doubt that when it comes to deal-making he has no option but to throw in his lot with Kabila. This adds to the bitter taste of defeat for Ruberwa. He has made no secret of his dislike for the transitional president, but dare not cross Kagame.

The kingmaker might still be Etienne Tshisekedi, who opted not to participate in the elections despite approaches from every party involved in political mediation in the DRC.

Conventional wisdom is that Tshisekedi will throw his support behind Bemba if there is a second round of voting. He will stay his hand, however, before overtly and unnecessarily siding against Kabila.

Bemba has more than political office at stake. He needs the immunity the presidency offers against the very real possibility of being summonsed to appear before the International Criminal Court.

A substantial dossier has been prepared of alleged excesses, including cannibalism, perpetrated by Bemba and members of his Movement for the Liberation of Congo during the civil war that cost three million lives.

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