Congo: 1995 Technical Assessment
At the invitation of the United States Embassy in Brazzaville and the Government of the Republic of Congo, the International Foundation for Election Systems organized a four-person technical assessment team that traveled to Congo from October 11 through October 24, 1995. The IFES team performed a general assessment of the status of preparations for the 1997 presidential elections.
This report is intended to provide a general overview of the current political and electoral situation for use by the United States and other donor nations in Congo as a planning aid for the provision of technical assistance to the registration and election processes. The Foundation conducted discussions with members of government officials, political party leaders, and representatives of the civil society about their requirements for organizing transparent, credible, economical, and fraud-free elections in 1997.
The team's principal recommendations focus on the establishment of an adequate legal and technical environment in which to prepare for Congo's next national elections. The team's task was made more complex by the widespread mistrust that permeates Congolese society. Many of the conclusions found at the end of each report section, and summarized at the end of the report, were developed in response to that complete lack of trust. Much of this distrust can be traced to the mystery surrounding Congo's electoral process and the lack of clear lines of communication between the election organizers, Congo's Ministry of the Interior in Charge of Security and Development, and the Congolese electorate.
The first section of the report, Congolese Society and Democratic Transition, focuses on Congo's recent political and electoral history, highlighting specific political figures, the rise of the private militias, and the work of the Peace Forum. Now is the time for the installation of the three Constitutionally-mandated legal entities crucial to the success of Congo's transition: the High Council of the Magistrature, the Constitutional Council, and the High Council of Information and Communication. These councils should report for work in early January 1996. The initiatives and institutions resulting from the Peace Forum's work deserve continued international and domestic support to facilitate concrete progress in the demilitarization of the private militias and the shaping of a non-partisan national army. The multiparty working committee that has continued to meet following the Forum is excellent arena for debating a variety of important governance issues, including the establishment of an independent election authority. The efficiency of this body is borne out by the events culminating in the December 24, 1995 signature of the Pact de paix by supporters of Presidential Lissouba (mouvance presidentieUe) and the opposition agreeing to the disarmament of the political militias. The IFES team hopes that all elements of Congolese society can be actively engaged in the nation's continued transition in order to encourage a popular sense of ownership and a national sense of administrative and political accountability.
The section of the report dedicated to Administration o/Voter Registration and Elections focuses on possible formats for the creation of an electoral authority in Congo. The IFES team members noted the need for voter registration and election procedures to be clarified for the benefit of all sectors of the nation's population. Related to this is the need for assistance to the Congolese media organs to improve their capacity to provide objective reporting of political events and government activities. Embarking on an effort to establish a permanent election-management institution in Congo is very timely given the fact that 1997's presidential election is the first in a series of national and local elections scheduled to take place into the 21st century. Congo's new electoral authority should receive international assistance organized through an international assistance secretariat. The secretariat can provide legal and technical assistance to all election and voter registration-related debates and activities to aid Congo to develop the capacity to manage its own electoral process.
Citizen Identification, Census Activities and Voter Registration constitutes the final portion of the report. Following its review of the voter registry and the administrative census, the IFES team determined that the next voter registry should be constructed from the ground up. Ideally, if resources and administrative will can be mobilized, the voter registry should be computerized. Even if this is not immediately accomplished, the development of this registry should be organized in such a manner as to facilitate its eventual computerization. A well-organized, internationally-supported, demographic census is underway. The Ministry of Interior is committed to complete a revision of the administrative census in the next few weeks. Congo's election administration should be encouraged to draw as much information as possible from those two activities to develop the foundation for the voter registry. This should save time, and more importantly, financial, material, and human resources, in the establishment of a valid voter registry.