Congo Parliament ousts speaker, confirming shift in power balance

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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s lower house of Parliament voted on Thursday to remove its speaker, handing President Felix Tshisekedi a major victory in a power struggle with his predecessor and coalition partner Joseph Kabila.

The vote was a show of strength by Tshisekedi’s allies, who might have enough support to form a new majority in Parliament and bring down the prime minister’s government, which is dominated by Kabila loyalists.

The National Assembly voted by 281 to 200 to impeach speaker Jeanine Mabunda, a close Kabila ally, accusing her of “conflictual and partisan” leadership and not being transparent about her management of the body’s finances.

During a rowdy debate that lasted hours, Mabunda denied the accusations against her and apologised for any misunderstandings.

Cheers, hugs and dancing broke out among lawmakers when it was clear the motion had passed, before the count was complete.

“With this change of majority, no one will be able to take our political class hostage,” Peter Kazadi, a lawmaker from Tshisekedi’s CACH political family, said on Twitter.

Tshisekedi was a longtime opponent of Kabila, who governed from 2001 to January 2019. He won office by defeating Kabila’s chosen successor in the 2018 election, even as independent observers, including Catholic bishops, said another opposition candidate had won.

But Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) won parliamentary majorities in the same election with over 60% of the seats, forcing Tshisekedi to enter into a coalition with it.

The awkward arrangement has frustrated Tshisekedi as he tries to pursue an agenda that includes addressing armed violence in the mineral-rich east, reforming the judiciary and securing financial support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

After nearly two years of trying to chip away at Kabila’s power, Tshisekedi initiated talks last month with political, religious and civil society leaders. On Sunday, he announced he would move to end the coalition with the FCC.

Creating a new parliamentary majority could face legal hurdles, although Tshisekedi may be able to flex his increased influence on the constitutional court since appointing three judges in October.

“It’s obviously a big moment because the FCC is on the ropes,” said Sarah Wolters, senior research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“We fought the good fight and we lost!” said Steve Mbikayi, a member of the FCC. “We will fight to get back on track.”