The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) information minister says he is “unaware” of an alleged attempt by the government to remove term limits in the constitution that would pave the way for President Joseph Kabila to run for a third term. President Kabila’s second term expires in 2016.
Lambert Mende also denied opposition accusation the administration has been undermining the constitution by using state institutions, including the police and the judiciary, to clamp down on their protests.
He said the government plans to propose amendments to some provisions in the constitution, but denied the administration wants to remove term limits.
“I am not aware of an initiative that has been taken to change this article that [is] preventing the president to run for a third term. It is just [the] opposition speaking just to discredit our political group and discredit the president,” said Mende. “We know that we have introduced an initiative for other provisions of the constitution, but not that one.”
His comments came after opposition groups expressed concern the government, as well as the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, is attempting to use its numerical strength in parliament to remove term limits, which they argue will allow incumbent President Kabila to run for a third consecutive term.
They have called for nationwide demonstrations after Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, the General Secretary of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation, was sentenced to a year in prison last week for insulting the president. But local media reports say officials accuse the opposition leader of inciting ethnic tension to create chaos and instability.
Mende declined to comment on the opposition leader’s prison sentence, citing the country’s laws that he said prevents him from doing so.
The opposition also accused the government of arresting protesters and preventing them from exercising their rights to freely express their displeasure with the administration’s policies. Mende rejected the accusation.
“[This is] just a way of discrediting our government, because they know that this is untrue,” said Mende. “Yesterday we had a demonstration in Kinshasa and there have not been any teargas, people demonstrated peacefully and they went home around 4-5pm. But those who challenged the police order, those were arrested briefly.”
Mende called on the opposition groups to coordinate with the police and local authorities before embarking on their demonstrations.
“It is a must, you can’t demonstrate without coordinating with the police and it is like that everywhere in the world,” said Mende. “They must know that they are free to demonstrate. They must coordinate with the local authorities ... so that something is done to prevent any disorder that is what is in the provision of law.”