January 25, 2015 / 8:39 PM / 3 years ago

Congo parliament passes election law stripped of census requirement

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament gave final approval on Sunday to an electoral law shorn of a controversial provision that risked delaying a vote due in 2016 and had triggered days of deadly protests.

The reversal is a major blow for President Joseph Kabila's camp and a leading opposition leader said demonstrations planned for Monday would now be called off.

Last weekend, the lower house passed the law with a measure ordering a national census before the next presidential election. Kabila's supporters argued a census was needed to ensure more accurate voter lists, but critics said it was intended to delay the ballot and allow him to stay in power.

This sparked days of protests that killed dozens. Diplomats called on Congo's government and lawmakers to drop the census, which could take years to complete in a vast country that is home to over 60 million people and lacks basic infrastructure.

The second vote was passed with a large majority in the National Assembly on Sunday and came after the Senate had proposed a version of the law that incorporated the demands of the street and diplomats.

Aubin Minaku, president of the National Assembly, said there had been a "semantic misunderstanding" over the census issue, but he called its removal "an expression of our attachment … to all the provisions of the constitution."

Kabila, who is obliged by the constitution to step down in 2016 having won elections in 2006 and 2011, now has 30 days to sign it into law.

Vital Kamerhe, president of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), said protests planned for Monday would be dropped despite concerns about a few articles in the law.

"There is no reason to call the population to the street tomorrow... The people have won," he told Reuters.

Separately, the National Assembly approved on Sunday a law to increase the number of provinces in Congo from nine to 26.

The change, promised by Congo's 2006 constitution, is strongly opposed by some political heavyweights in the copper mining province of Katanga, who fear their influence will be watered down.

Editing by David Lewis, Stephen Powell and Crispian Balmer

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