Catholic leaders in Congo have gathered more than 1.5 million signatures on a petition that demands local elections to curb corruption and strengthen democracy.
“Democracy must have roots right down to (the) local level, and people must be allowed to designate who governs them,” said Msgr Andre Massinganda, deputy secretary-general of the Congolese bishops’ conference.
“The Catholic Church stands ready to help obtain what’s demanded for the good of the Congolese people – it won’t ever shirk its true mission,” he said.
Msgr Massinganda said the petition, launched in May with the Church of Christ, was the largest petition in the country’s history, with 20 times the number of backers required to push through a constitutional revision.
“The authorities can’t ignore these demands – we must hope they respond positively by agreeing to organise the elections,” the bishops’ conference official said.
Elections of mayors, town councillors and local administrators, the first under Congo’s 2006 constitution, were scheduled under an agreed timetable for September 22, nine months after Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi replaced the long-entrenched Joseph Kabila as head of state in a long-delayed December 30 presidential ballot.
However, inaction by Congo’s Electoral Commission triggered protest marches and sit-ins in April, and on May 28, the petition was launched at Kinshasa’s interdiocesan center.
“There have always been great problems with voting here. But if the authorities have the will, they’ll find ways of surmounting them, thus removing a source of corruption which gravely hampers development.”
The document said the Congolese people, as “primary sovereign”, were demanding local elections by December 31 as a mark of “respect for the rule of law”.
It added that “true democracy and development begin at the base, not the summit”, and should no longer be “confiscated from the people”.
“Local elections are the foundation for democracy and decentralisation,” the Church petition said.
“They will put an end to a system of appointments that lies at the heart of nepotism, clientelism and corruption, contradicting the constitution, but also and above all depriving citizens of services they have a right to.”