The United Nations is warning that without a serious national political dialogue, the Democratic Republic of Congo's current political tensions could deteriorate into a severe and possibly violent crisis.
"Political tensions are rising ahead of the constitutional envisaged presidential and legislative elections," U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson warned Thursday. "Polarization and public discontent are fueled by delays in the electoral process, the debate around respect for the constitution, and increasing restrictions on democratic space."
Fears are high in the country that President Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down at the end of the year, will delay elections so that he can continue in his post. A constitutional court ruling in May said the president and members of parliament could remain in office until new office holders assume their duties.
The president has proposed holding a national political dialogue, but there has been no agreement on the terms for it or who would participate, and the opposition has expressed reluctance.
"In the absence of dialogue, there is a real risk that political actors could resort to unilateral decisions which may compound existing political tensions," Eliasson cautioned. "What is at stake here, basically, is the long-term stability of the DRC."
He expressed backing for efforts by an international support group which met July 4 in Addis Ababa and said it would work toward getting stakeholders to participate in the dialogue. The deputy secretary-general also said a reliable voter register could help ease tensions and open the way for transparent and credible elections.
The U.N. mission in the DRC, known by its acronym MONUSCO, has been doing contingency planning, but Eliasson warned that since there is "a major political and security crisis, it would be unrealistic to expect MONUSCO to substitute for the state."
Congo's U.N. ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita denied that political space is shrinking in his country, and said the government wants to conduct free elections in line with all international standards in a peaceful atmosphere.