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Religious Leaders in DR Congo Urge Impartiality in Constituting Electoral Commission

The headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) in DR Congo. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Religious leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have, in a collective statement, urged Members of Parliament (MPs) to practice impartiality as they debate about new members to constitute the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

In the Wednesday, April 21 collective statement, the religious leaders under their umbrella body of the Forum of Religious Denominations say that they are “following with great interest the exchanges started at the level of the National Assembly on the bill of Honorable Christophe Lutundula relating to CENI.”

On Tuesday, April 20, MPs started examining the bill on electoral reforms, which aims not only at modifying the law on the functioning of CENI, but also at reforming DRC’s electoral system. Hon. Christophe Lutundula had tabled the bill in August 2019.

“This is a good opportunity for us to recall that the purpose of the urgently needed reforms in this area is to strengthen the legal mechanisms likely to guarantee the independence, neutrality and impartiality of CENI so as to reassure all electoral actors of the credibility of the 2023 elections,” the leaders say.

DRC’s religious leaders caution against influence due to political affiliations saying that the major challenge remains the “need to minimize political influence on the electoral body.”

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The need for impartiality, the members of DRC’s religious forum add, “was mentioned in the reports of almost all the major stakeholders consulted to address the issue of electoral reforms.”

They further say in reference to alleged political influence, “This was well perceived by the Head of State, President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo who, in the spirit of the Sun City consensus, firmly promised to work towards a CENI run by civil society.”

Religious leaders in DRC have been keen on the process of constituting CENI, expressing concerns about the appointment of particular members.

Last year, the leaders asked President Tshisekedi not to accept the National Assembly’s “endorsement” of Ronsard Malonda as the head of CENI, terming the decision by the members of parliament “controversial.”

Since then, faith-based leaders in the country have remained divided over the choice of the Chairperson of the electoral commission, a prerogative accorded them by the country’s constitution.

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In their April 21 statement, the members of DRC’s Forum of Religious Denominations that Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo chairs outline issues to be taken into consideration in order “to achieve the objectives assigned, for the designation of the members of CENI.”

“We encourage the option of the freedom of the major stakeholders to choose their representatives in CENI,” the religious leaders say, and add, “In case of lack of consensus among major stakeholders, we propose that the bureau of the Assembly designate three competent independent personalities from good offices within a limited time, for the National Assembly cannot both designate and endorse.”

Regarding how CENI should be organized, the members of the religious forum call for “the establishment of a committee with equal representation of the three major stakeholders (political parties, civil society and religious leaders), to ensure the monitoring and control of CENI through a periodic technical evaluation.”

Given the crucial role played by the National Executive Secretariat of CENI, the religious leaders propose that the Secretariat “be governed by the Law rather than leaving it under the total dependence of the Chairman of CENI.”

“We expect a major change in the composition of the CENI bureau where ideally all members should be from civil society. The minimum would be a board with a parity distribution. A board controlled by one political family should be avoided at all costs,” the leaders further recommend.

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They urge the leadership of political parties to “designate their representatives from among independent personalities who have not participated in the activities of political parties in the last five years.”

The faith-based leaders further recommend that the financing of elections “remains the prerogative of the Government; other sources, however necessary, remain secondary.”

The proposed reforms, the religious leader say, is a “major factor in the smooth running of the elections in 2023.”

“This is why we call on the Members of Parliament to have a sense of responsibility. Let them avoid at this stage seeking to defy the population in the name of the numerical majority at the national assembly,” the religious leaders say in their April 21 statement.

They encourage MPs in DRC to “take this matter seriously, taking into account the expectations of the population expressed several times by various civil society organizations, and to conclude as soon as possible in order to allow the components to finalize the process of appointing the members of the bureau of CENI.”

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“May the Divine Wisdom dwell in all of them for the advent of a new Congo,” the leaders implore in their collective statement.

Last year, DRC’s Catholic Bishops urged MPs and Senators to prioritize the interests of the Congolese people during their deliberations in the country’s capital, Kinshasa.

“The National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) reminds the Honorable parliamentarians and Senators of the Democratic Republic of Congo of their duty to vote laws that give priority to the interest of the Congolese people,” the Bishops said in their statement issued in September 2020.

In February, members of CENCO called for electoral reforms in the DRC saying it “should be among the priorities of the new government.”

In their statement released after the February 22 to 25 meeting of CENCO’s Standing Committee, the Bishops further called on the Congolese government to do “everything possible to win the challenge of organizing credible, transparent and peaceful elections in 2023 and not later.”

They also urged the International Community to help the country's institutions to "bring about reforms in favor of the Congolese population in order to prepare adequately for the 2023 elections.”

Last month, the Catholic Bishops unveiled the roadmap for the General elections slated to take place in 2023.