A spokesman for the Democratic Republic of Congo government said Sunday’s senate approval of controversial election legislation was a defeat for opponents of President Joseph Kabila who, he claimed, were planning a coup d’état.
The ruling majority agreed to remove articles in the proposed law that required the completion of a vast census before the 2016 election, a move that the opposition said would have allowed Kabila to extend his stay in power.
Information Minister Lambert Mende said it was an easy decision for Kabila to change because he had said all along he had no intention of changing the constitution.
“We took the initiative to change our version of the law, and we are happy that the parliament followed it to end this irrelevant dispute. They (the opposition) wanted to create misunderstanding without justification. So, since we were not all planning to change anything in constitution, that is why it was easy for us to change our version,” Mende said.
During three days or protests last week, security forces fired on rock-throwing protesters. The government said 12 people, including a policeman, were killed.
However, the final text does not contain a clause demanded by senators stating that presidential elections must be organized according to the timetable laid down in the constitution, which calls for polls in 2016.
The text also removes any reference to a 2015 date for local, provincial and senatorial polls, which must be held before a presidential vote.
Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation, said the vote was a “victory” for the opposition because the presidential election will not be delayed.
But Mende accused Kamerhe and other opposition politicians of using the disagreement over the proposed legislation to plan a Burkina Faso-style violent revolution.
“I don’t think this is what he (Kamerhe) was looking for. He was looking for ousting our leader in a kind of Burkina Faso (-style fashion). So, there is no reason for him to claim any victory,” Mende said.
Mende rejected criticism the Kabila government should have withdrawn the controversial clause earlier to prevent last week’s violent protests. He said it was part of the democratic process.
“It is our right. We are talking about democracy. I don’t [know] who will give us the timetable to tell us you change after so many days or so many hours. We change when we think that we should change,” Mende said.
Mende underscored Kabila was not planning to change the constitution to extend his stay in power.
“He didn’t tell anybody that he is likely to run again. He’s telling you since the beginning that he will respect the constitution. And, you are ignoring what he’s telling you about himself and following only the lies of his enemies,” Mende said.
He said the violent nature of the protests showed they were not about the proposed election legislation but rather a coup attempt.
“You don’t demonstrate against legislation by looting, by killing a policeman, and by destroying public property. It was a coup attempt,” Mende said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday welcomed parliament’s approval of the electoral legislation.
“The actions the DRC parliament has taken, along with President Kabila's expected signature, represent critical, albeit initial, steps towards national elections in 2016, and what could be the DRC's first peaceful transfer in power in its almost 55 years since independence,” Kerry said in a statement.