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January 10, 2011

The leaders of the main opposition parties met in Kinshasa on Sunday and vowed to put up a united front against a government proposal to limit presidential elections to just one round of voting.

The government and its allies in the parliament said last week they want to amend the Constitution so that the president can be elected in just one round, with a simple majority, instead of the two rounds currently required if no candidate gets more than fifty percent of the votes during the first round.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the change would save money and prevent a rise in tensions.

But opposition parties have rallied against such a move, claiming it is only aimed at keeping incumbent president Joseph Kabila in power. They say that the proposal has only been put forward because Kabila’s allies are afraid of a united front of the opposition during the second round.

Francois Muamba, the secretary general of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), said in a statement read on behalf of other opposition leaders after their meeting that “presidential elections with two rounds were the result of a long struggle of the forces for democratic change and against dictatorship in our country.

This is one of the achievements of the National Sovereign Conference and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue of Sun City. Therefore, the political opposition considers the proposal of the president’s allies as a dangerous step backward.”

On Wednesday, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, a veteran of politics in the country who once headed the National Sovereign Conference transitional parliament in the nineties, said during a press conference that leaders of the Catholic Church were not “convinced by the reasons” given for the proposed change to the electoral law.

“Is it possible to be comfortable being the head of state of 20% of a population that has 100%? “, he asked. He called on politicians to respect the “spirit of the law”, to “think seriously about this issue” and “not to rush things.”

The current Constitution was enacted in 2006 after a referendum. Amending it would only require a vote in the two chambers of parliament. Kabila’s allies hold a majority of seats in both chambers.