The presidential and legislative election campaigns are now slowly underway across the country. While there has been an improvement in the quality of the information put out by political parties and candidates, there is still a tendency to politicize and sensationalize relatively straight-forward technical issues and unjustly undermine confidence in the electoral process.
The CEI itself must do a better job of communicating on such issues, both with the broad public and the parties. The training of elections workers, whose performance is crucial in determining public confidence in the elections, is also in need of a concerted boost in the short time that remains. Payments to registration and elections workers, which are still outstanding from the referendum, have the potential to seriously disrupt operations in some areas if they are not urgently resolved.
Congolese authorities have a crucial responsibility to ensure a fair and peaceful environment for the elections. Some government actors have been abusing their powers to interfere with the freedoms and campaign activities of other candidates. The security forces must also be impartial, restrained - especially in the use of force - and professional in dealing with all election-related events.
The Election Campaign
Campaign activities began slowly after the June 29 opening of the campaign period. Carter Center observers have noted a generally low level of visible party activity, concentrated mainly in urban areas. There is evidence of healthy multiparty competition in some areas, though our observers report that such competition is unevenly distributed. There have also been quite a number of incidents of vandalism of campaign posters, a sign that the principles of fair democratic practice have not been fully adopted by all. Many parties suffer from a lack of organization and resources and are therefore limiting their campaign activities both in duration and geographic reach.
Due to the limited reach of the campaign so far, The Carter Center is concerned that portions of the population are not being adequately prepared to make an informed choice for the July 30 elections. To a certain extent, it is inevitable that not all parties will have the means (or the commitment) to get their message out to their entire audience. However, certain additional initiatives could have mitigated the disparity and contributed to a more level playing field, such as where otherwise well-organized and serious parties simply lack the means or the expertise to communicate on a large scale. The parties currently in parliament have unfortunately not followed through on draft legislation which might have provided a small amount of public financing to political parties which meet certain minimum criteria of bona fides. While some valuable party training assistance was provided with support from the international community, as recommended in our first pre-election report some basic party resource centers could also have been established to assist with printing, graphic design, and other basic technical services. In a country such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where funds are scarce and the logistical challenges are immense, the natural imbalance of resources between parties is exacerbated, and this can ultimately impact on the fairness of campaigning. The Carter Center therefore reminds incumbent parties to respect the principle of transparency in the use of state resources.
Another important element of a democratic campaign is a forum for candidates to debate the issues in an unscripted manner. When these debates are effectively organized and presented, they are highly valued by voters as they provide an occasion to see and hear candidates directly, without being filtered through the media or other sources. It is a positive step that regular candidate debates are being broadcast on state television and other channels. Unfortunately, some candidates have chosen not to participate in these important occasions to publicly explain their platforms, and for incumbents to defend their records.
The free media time allocated to each candidate has brought about some improvements in the quality of information provided to the electorate. Many candidates are taking the opportunity to present to voters what they would intend to do if elected, thus giving them important information with which to make a choice.
The Carter Center has noted, however, that there is still a tendency to dramatize marginal issues in lieu of serious campaigning; the current controversy surrounding extra ballots is an example of this. It is technically necessary, and well-accepted in international elections practice, to provide each polling station with a small margin of extra ballots beyond the number of registered voters. The extra ballots cover the cases, such as those permitted by the Congolese electoral law, where certain small categories of voters may cast their ballot at a station other than where they are registered. The surplus also allows for inadvertently damaged or spoiled ballots -- Carter Center observers have, for example, reported one such case of ballots damaged in transit. Furthermore, time and logistical constraints made it necessary to distribute a standard number of ballots to polling stations, despite the fact that the number of registered voters will vary between them. This set of circumstances further widened the margin between the number of persons registered and the number of ballots printed.
The Carter Center is satisfied that the CEI adhered to proper election practice by printing a reasonable number of extra ballots. Moreover, the accounting procedures developed for all ballot papers on election day and afterward are designed to ensure that unused ballots cannot be used for fraudulent purposes. Party agents and election observers will have the opportunity to verify that such procedures are properly implemented.
The Carter Center understands how technical issues can become the subject of misunderstanding, and urges the CEI to greatly strengthen its efforts - for example through frequent and regular press conferences - to explain these matters effectively to the public, political parties, and all CEI staff. It is not necessary to explain every detail of the technical arrangements in advance, but when questions arise it is crucial that clear and timely explanations be provided to reinforce public confidence in the administration of the elections. In the current controversy over ballots, valuable time was lost before the CEI addressed the issue publicly, and when it did, the effort was not sufficient, given the level of public outcry which had already been generated.
The Center remains nonetheless concerned that political parties are not making enough serious effort to inform themselves on such relatively simple technical issues, preferring to cast unfounded accusations and generate controversy rather than seek to resolve such issues. If we assume they are acting in good faith, it is particularly puzzling how the large parties (composantes and entités), each with their own representatives inside the CEI, are not able to properly inform themselves on technical issues and avoid ill-informed reactions.
The Carter Center again reminds all candidates to respect the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, which they themselves drafted and signed (and subsequently amended to take into account political groupings and independent candidates). In particular, candidates should concentrate their campaigns on informing voters about their platforms and their visions of a better future for the DRC and refrain from politicizing technical aspects of the process which could undermine public confidence in the elections.
Media and the Campaign
In an election campaign, a free, unbiased media is an important resource for voters seeking accurate, impartial information about the different candidates and party platforms. The High Media Authority (HAM) has provided good rules for the conduct of the media during the campaign, but we are concerned that its directives are not being respected, and that HAM lacks adequate capacity to enforce them. In particular, we have observed that private media outlets - whose ownership often has specific political affiliations - are not respecting guidelines concerning equitable coverage of candidates in their reporting.
The Carter Center is concerned that certain incidents since the beginning of the campaign are having a chilling effect on press freedoms, particularly the unexplained killing of Congolese journalist Bapuwa Mwamba. Other incidents leave the impression that international journalists are being selectively screened as to who is allowed to operate here. We urge the Congolese authorities to assume their responsibilities and ensure a climate in which the press can operate without interference or intimidation.
State authorities have a special responsibility to guarantee the rights of all candidates to campaign in a climate of freedom that respects democratic principles and international electoral standards. In the month since our first report, The Carter Center has been concerned about a number of actions by government authorities that both directly and indirectly impinge on political liberties. Government actors have deliberately attempted to intimidate and obstruct certain candidates in their campaigning, through unjustified arrests, through an unequal customs treatment of candidate materials, and allegedly through intimidating private businesses from making available facilities and services. Such actions are a serious abuse of the powers of government, foment tensions between the parties, and threaten the fairness and equality of the electoral process. The Carter Center calls on the various transitional Congolese authorities to refrain from all activities which negatively impact candidates' ability to campaign freely and which undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
While not directly related to these elections, the killing of a dozen people by Congolese security forces during a June 30 demonstration in Bas Congo raises serious questions about the ability of the security forces to react with restraint, even when provoked. In the coming month there may be many circumstances in which appropriate actions and reactions by Congolese security forces could have an important impact upon the climate for, and public participation in these elections.
The Carter Center remains confident that the CEI is able to administer successful elections on July 30. However, some materials deliveries and training activities are already behind schedule. The training of poll workers is a particular concern given their crucial role not only in implementing the election, but also in instilling confidence in voters about the electoral process. Notably, although the CEI has begun to implement a cascading training program for election workers, several simulations suggest an urgent need to strengthen and accelerate current efforts in the short time which remains. The Center is also concerned about how late-arising policy decisions or changes - such as those which address problems and clarify ambiguities about the voting operations - will be effectively communicated down to the lowest levels of the system after training sessions have already been conducted. The Carter Center urges the CEI to redouble its efforts to communicate these decisions, and ensure they are effectively and uniformly implemented across the country so that voting operations are not compromised.
Regrettably, our observers report that the issue of the overdue payment of registration and election workers has still not been resolved in all areas. It is crucial that this issue be fully and urgently concluded so as to avoid any disruptions of electoral operations.
The Center is encouraged by recent efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Supreme Court of Justice in election matters. With the assistance of the international community, a training program for Supreme Court magistrates usefully allowed them to consider in advance issues that could arise during and after voting operations, and seek consensus amongst themselves on a legal response based on Congolese, African and international electoral jurisprudence.
The CEI's late effort to coordinate civic education achieved mixed results and confirmed what was already apparent to Carter Center observers: while some excellent civic education activities are being conducted by national and international non-governmental organizations, with support from donors, there remain significant areas of the country that are not being reached. Civic education is an ongoing need in any democratic society, especially one emerging from conflict. It is essential not only to promote well-considered voting but also to encourage popular participation in the entire democratic process. An informed and empowered population is the very foundation of such a process. The Carter Center urges both Congolese institutions and the international community to support effective civic education in the months and years to come, as an essential underpinning of a successful transition to a stable and sustained democracy.
The Carter Center International Observation Mission in the DRC
The Carter Center
launched its 2006 international observation mission in the DRC in March with
the opening of a field office in Kinshasa. Since April, with cooperation and
support from the CEI and MONUC, it has deployed eight long-term observers around
the country to monitor preparations for the July 30 presidential and legislative
elections. A delegation of more than 50 observers will arrive in mid-July to
observe the final days of the campaign, election day, and the vote counting
and tabulation. The observation mission will continue through a runoff presidential
election, if one is necessary.
The Center has met with the CEI, political parties and candidates, civil society groups including domestic observers, media organizations, MONUC, and other members of the international community. The Center will continue to meet with stakeholders at the national and local levels in gathering its observations about the electoral process. The Carter Center observes and upholds the Declaration of Principles and Code of Conduct for International Election Observation.
The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 65 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. To learn more about The Carter Center, please visit: www.cartercenter.org.