Friday, November 17, 2006

DRC presidential loser rejects results but may be offered governmental post

Dangerous doings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of Africa's largest and most important countries. The incumbent head of state Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of the recent presidential runoff election with over 58% of the vote compared to nearly 42% for his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba. Kabila thus becomes the country's first elected leader since independence-era prime minister Patrice Lumumba, who was assassinated with connivance from western powers only a few months after taking power.

This time, the international community was instrumental in helping conduct what were universally considered the country's first free and fair elections since independence, as well as providing the world's largest UN peacekeeping mission.

The victory of young Kabila, who ascended to the post after the assassination of his father, was not surprising. Incumbents have an enormous advantage in African presidential elections because of name recognition and patronage. It was even more true in the DRC where Kabila was seen to represent stability.

Bemba, a former rebel leader who is vice-president in the current national unity government, has rejected Kabila's victory. This after having promised weeks ago to respect the election results even if he lost.

He claimed that a large number of ballots were cast by people outside the districts in which they were registered. The head of the independent electoral commission responded that this was because of the large poll workers who travelled to other parts of the country to actually conduct the election.

Observers consider it highly unlikely that fraud and errors occurred at such a large scale as to affect the result, considering Kabila's sixteen percent victory. Given all the international observers on the ground, could that many votes have been stolen without anyone noticing?

Bemba added, "I promise to use all legal means to ensure the will of our people is respected."

The key word here is 'legal.'

If he goes through the legal procedures and loses, will he respect the unfavorable outcome like US candidate Al Gore did in 2000?

Bemba's coalition calls itself 'The Union for the Nation.' Only time will tell if his group's real priority is national unity or selfish power at any cost. I've heard reports that Kabila may offer Bemba a high-ranking post, which would be a smart move considering the incumbent had very little support in the west of the country where the capital is located.

After the decade of savage war which followed 35 years of state rot, Bemba's choice, assuming he cares a whit about his country, is clear.


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