A political crisis in the perennially restive Democratic Republic of Congo deepened on Monday as lawmakers trashed parliament after President Felix Tshisekedi moved to scrap the shaky ruling coalition.
Tshisekedi’s government has been in tatters with MPs loyal to his powerful predecessor Joseph Kabila, who command more than 300 seats in the 500-member parliament, increasingly at odds with supporters of the president.
Tshisekedi on Sunday said he planned to form a new coalition and warned he might be forced to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections in a country wracked for decades by conflict and corruption.
“The present majority has crumbled and a new majority is required,” he said, adding that if he failed to form a new coalition, fresh elections would be the solution “using the constitutional prerogatives that have been invested in me to come back to you, a sovereign people, and ask for a majority”.
The announcement sparked violent scenes in parliament on Monday, with sources close to the assembly’s pro-Kabila speaker charging that lawmakers of Tshisekedi’s party went on the rampage, destroying desks and chairs.
Video footage showing individuals overturning desks went viral on social media. An AFP journalist said all the furniture on the podium was wrecked.
“The plenary session has been deferred to another date,” parliament said, denouncing the “destruction” of furniture and “the presence of armed bodyguards inside the assembly.”
Tshisekedi meanwhile held emergency talks with pro-Kabila Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga on Monday afternoon, Ilunga’s office said.
The growing tensions have sparked international alarm with the African Union calling on the country’s leaders to “work resolutely and sincerely for national harmony and to preserve peace and stability”.
The United Nations envoy to DR Congo warned Monday of the security threat posed by the political deadlock, warning that the country “cannot afford a serious institutional crisis.”
“(If) this delicate political situation persists, it could have serious repercussions on the economic and security situation of the country,” Leila Zerrougui told the Security Council via video link.
The session was called to discuss the UN’S MONUSCO mission of around 15,000 peacekeepers whose mandate is due to expire on December 20.
“The political situation that DR Congo is experiencing is very uncertain,” Zerrougui said, calling on the Security Council to “play an important role in encouraging a negotiated resolution of this political crisis.”
She called for “stable and functional institutions” to be allowed to return to work as soon as possible.
Tshisekedi took over from Kabila in January 2019, in the mineral-rich DRC’s first peaceful transition since independence from Belgium in 1960.
– ‘Unconstitutional’ move –
But the president’s room for implementing much-trumpeted reforms was hampered by the need to forge a coalition with the pro-Kabila Common Front for the Congo (FCC), overwhelmingly dominant in the legislature.
The FCC said on Monday that Tshisekedi’s declaration was “a flagrant and intentional breach of the constitution”.
It said it would ask Kabila to give “his version of events”, and asked the “people to remain mobilised against an attempt to hijack its will freely expressed at the ballot box”.
Last week, the FCC accused Tshisekedi supporters of trying to bribe deputies to switch parties. The president’s supporters then sought the resignation of the pro-Kabila speaker of the lower house.
Kabila ruled the DRC for 18 years until he stepped down after long-delayed elections in December 2018.
He retains considerable clout through political allies and officers he appointed to the armed forces, and is also a senator for life.
In October, Tshisekedi revealed there had been discord over major issues with the FCC-dominated government.
These included national security, the management of state assets, the independence of the judiciary and the organisation of elections.
Last month, he embarked on three weeks of consultations with various parties and political figures, seeking “the sacred union of the nation”, in his office’s words.