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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 725: debated on Thursday 10 February 2011

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the constitutional changes passed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s lower house on 11 January that eliminate a second round of voting in this year’s presidential elections in the Congo.

My Lords, the constitutional amendments appear to have followed proper constitutional procedure. However, we have concerns about the unprecedented speed of the changes and are aware of rumours of irregularities. The UK, together with international partners, continues to stress the need for free and fair elections this November. Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the DRC has raised our concerns with both government and opposition figures following the amendments, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that eliminating the second round skews the election by some 30 per cent in favour of the incumbent president and delays his election pledge to decentralise power from 11 to 26 provinces? In that context, what specifically are the Government doing to help strengthen the participation of civil society across all provinces: for example, in the distribution of voting cards and the compilation of voting registers? What is the Government’s assessment of the security situation in the run-up to the election and the steps needed to avoid a repeat of past pre-election violence?

My Lords, that was a large number of questions. The Government have no view on second-round or single-round elections. I do not think that even the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours or Lord Rooker, suggested that that was one of the electoral systems that we might like to adopt. We are aware of the real concerns about the election campaign. There has been some harassment of opposition candidates and journalists. We are the largest bilateral donor for the election process. The EU is the largest donor altogether. However, let us not be too idealistic about this; this is a country with a population larger than Britain’s. In a frail security situation, we are trying to register more people than are on the British electoral register. We hope that these elections will be at least as fair as the 2006 elections, but it is not an easy task.

Why are the UN forces likely to be drawn down in May this year, given the acute security situation, especially in the north-east?

My Lords, there will be a negotiation for the renewal of the mandate between the Government of the DRC and the UN. We will support the UN Secretary-General in his view of what is now needed. My understanding is that MONUSCO’s force, which is being reduced from 20,000 to 17,000 troops, is being concentrated on the east of the country, which is the least secure area of the DRC.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a considerable shortfall in the necessary funding for presidential, legislative and provincial elections, and that we should be concerned? Is he aware that the cost is estimated to be $712 million? So far, we have received only $70 million from the European Union, and only $4 million from the United States for election training.

My Lords, one could put a great many forces into the DRC, which is a huge country, and one could spend an enormous amount of funds, although the quality of local administration in some provinces is such that there is a question of how much can be absorbed. The UK is putting a considerable effort in. We are deeply engaged with this process. We want a presidential election that is as fair and effective as possible.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the irony that this acceleration of the constitutional process in the DRC goes hand in hand with the fact that commercially it takes longer to set up a business in the DRC than in any other country on earth?

My Lords, the Minister has just told the House that the Government are concerned about the speed of constitutional change in the Congo. Is he also concerned about the speed of constitutional change in this country?

I am sorry that the noble Lord did not ask whether I was concerned about the speed of constitutional change in reforming the House of Lords, which, he will remember, has so far taken 100 years.