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DRC:New prime minister pick is likely to increase tension

Joseph Kabila, the president, has appointed Bruno Tshibala, a dissident from the main opposition coalition, as prime minister.

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Bruno Tshibala

The presidential election—initially scheduled for November 2016—has been delayed in an attempt by the regime to keep Mr Kabila in power after the end of his second and, according to the current constitution, final mandate. The Majorité présidentielle (MP) coalition and the Rassemblement, the largest opposition alliance, started negotiations and reached an agreement in December meant to pave the way for the holding of elections before end‑2017. However, implementation of the agreement has been stuck since then, notably because of contention over the naming of a prime minister.

Mr Tshibala’s appointment, however, is unlikely to push the process forward. Instead, the risk of the agreement’s failure has increased. The Rassemblement had nominated Felix Tshisekedi as its choice of prime minister, but a fringe led by Mr Tshibala broke away. By appointing Mr Tshibala, Mr Kabila has snubbed the bulk of the Rassemblement—a move that casts increasing doubt on his commitment to the agreement.

Mr Tshisekedi’s supporters have already said that they do not recognise the new prime minister, but calls for nationwide protests against the new prime minister were largely ignored by the population. The Rassemblement’s feeble response will therefore not have worried Mr Kabila. Although violent crackdowns would have been likely, more than the risk of clashes, the decreased credibility of the Rassemblement may explain the lack of popular enthusiasm—the coalition has lost support following the replacement of its late leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, by his far less popular son, Felix Tshisekedi.

Mr Tshisekedi and his supporters will now try to ensure that key Rassemblement figures do not shift their support to Mr Tshibala and, therefore, legitimise his government. This is likely to lead to a stalemate and will draw attention away from the Rassemblement’s main objective, which is to organise meaningful resistance to Mr Kabila’s efforts to hold onto power. Within this context, the elections are unlikely to take place in 2017 as per the December agreement, which means that a new agreement will need to be reached. This will allow the MP to buy time and potentially allow it to alter the constitution and let Mr Kabila run for another term.

This reinforces our forecast that the electoral agenda for 2017 will not be respected and political stability will be increasingly fragile in the near term.

Mark J

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