Voting continues today in the Democratic Republic of Congo on a new constitution drafted to bring stability to the country. Polling stations that closed Sunday with long lines of voters still waiting to cast ballots are expected to allow everyone a chance to vote today.
Sunday's vote took place under tight security, with at least 15 thousand United Nations peacekeeping troops on duty. The proposed constitution calls for an elected president and parliament and would create at least two dozen semi-autonomous provinces in the DRC. If approved, the constitution would pave the way for local and national elections in the New Year.
Jason Stearns is a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group – a non-governmental organization that works to prevent conflict. He says the process has gone fairly smoothly. But he’s concerned about the low turnout in the capital, Kinshasa, and the two provinces of central Kasai: “The low turnout in Kinshasa [for example] is partially because… the largest party, the UDPS, called for a boycott of the referendum. If the constitution passes, this political opposition party [can] always say that [the referendum] was not legitimate because their supporters boycotted [it].”
Mr. Stearns says there were several reasons why the UDPS and other opposition groups refused to go to the polls. One was that much of the public had not seen the draft constitution, nor heard it debated in the media. Some of those who were familiar with the draft said it gave too much power to the president, who would serve with diplomatic immunity -- first as head of state, and after retirement, as “senator-for-life.”
If the draft is approved, there will be three elections in late March – presidential, parliamentary and local, all held on the same day. Local elections will be held at the provincial level, with provincial assemblies electing governors and also senators to parliament. Elections will also be held for president and for the Senate. The draft constitution provides for a run-off in event no presidential candidate wins 50 percent of the vote.
If the draft constitution is rejected, the interim government will have until the end of June to submit a new draft to a referendum. Analyst Jason Stearns of the International Crisis Group adds, “Opposition parties could take advantage of a ‘no’ vote to say this was a vote of mistrust in the government, and [it] must return to the negotiating table and restructure the whole transition. This is something that especially the international community is very worried about.”