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January 16, 2011

The parliament has approved constitutional amendments seen as aiding President Kabila’s chances of reelection during the presidential election set for next November.

The amendments were approved during a joint session of the upper and the lower houses of parliament on Saturday. Out of 504 voters, 485 voted for the amendments, 8 voted against and 11 abstained. As had been the case when the amendments were considered in the National Assembly and the Senate, opposition MPs and Senators boycotted the vote. The changes now await President Kabila’s signature to become law.

The amendments scrap the second round of voting during presidential elections. The president will now be elected in a single vote, with a simple majority. A candidate can become president even if they only get a minority of the total votes cast during an election, with the other candidates splitting the rest of the votes.

Opposition parties have argued that eliminating the second round will diminish their chances of unseating incumbent President Joseph Kabila by making it harder for the opposition to unite behind one candidate during a single round.

In a letter sent to parliament this week, President Joseph Kabila wrote that a “presidential election in one round has the double advantage of adding not only simplicity and speed, but also significantly reducing the cost of presidential elections, at a time when the finances of the DRC are bleak.”

Opposition parties countered that the additional cost of a run-off is minimal, compared to the overall cost of all the elections, and cannot justify getting rid of a system that ensures that the president is elected with more than 50% of the votes.

The secretary-general of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), Francois Mwamba, said on Wednesday that the only additional costs for a run-off were in printing extra ballots, which “would amount to about 10 to $15 million.”

In August last year, the Independent Electoral Commission estimated the cost of all elections until 2013 – including presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections – at $712 million. The government announced rhen that it would fund 60% of the cost, with donor countries picking up the remaining 40%. Last week, the government claimed a lack of funds to justify the electoral reforms.

Other amendments will give the president the power to dissolve elected provincial parliaments and sack provincial governors, who are elected by provincial MPs. The president will have the power to call referendums. The Office of the Prosecutor General will now operate under the explicit authority of the Ministry of Justice. The split of the country into 26 provinces will be delayed.