Congo’s Tshisekedi nears breakthrough in power struggle with predecessor

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Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi gained an upper hand on Tuesday in his power struggle with his predecessor Joseph Kabila as parliament voted to authorise a motion to remove a Kabila ally as speaker.

More than half of the body’s 500 representatives authorised a vote on the motion for Thursday, which would force out Jeannine Mabunda as speaker and pave the way for the formation of a pro-Tshisekedi majority.

The law-makers, some formerly allied with Kabila, cheered and flashed V-for-victory signs during the session, which was boycotted by Kabila’s top supporters.

By controlling a majority in parliament, Tshisekedi would be able to nominate a cabinet of his choosing after two years in which Kabila’s allies have dominated the major ministries, frustrating the president’s ability to push through his agenda.

It would also free his hand to choose a head of the electoral commission and nominate a new central bank board, a key precondition for badly-needed assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Tshisekedi took office in January 2019, defeating Kabila’s chosen successor. But Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) won parliamentary majorities, forcing Tshisekedi to enter into a coalition with it.

Tshisekedi announced on Sunday that he would try to form a new majority in parliament by winning over members of the FCC and other, smaller parties.

The FCC says Tshisekedi’s actions are illegal, and fighting has broken out between rival supporters. On Tuesday, rival supporters hurled chairs, wooden batons and plastic buckets at each other inside the parliament building.

One man was carried away bleeding from the head. The police eventually dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

“What took place today in the National Assembly is anarchy. We cannot accept that,” Lambert Mende, a senior FCC member, told Reuters.

The standoff has raised fears of fresh instability in the Central African country, whose recent history has been marked by repeated civil wars and political upheaval.

Kabila, who came to power in 2001, stepped down last year after bowing to domestic and international pressure not to seek a third elected term. He is eligible to run again in 2023.

He maintains significant influence across state institutions, but Tshisekedi has chipped away at that, including by forcing through nominations of new judges to the nation’s top court.