October 29, 2015 / 9:29 PM / 3 years ago

Congo's Kabila names provincial commissioners as elections lag

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila appointed special commissioners on Thursday to provisionally govern 21 new provinces, a move critics say is part of a strategy he has to cling to power.

The move comes as politicians in several African countries, including neighboring Congo Republic and Rwanda, amend term limits to let longstanding presidents remain in office. Kabila’s final term in office ends next year.

The nominees, announced on state-run television, include several prominent Kabila loyalists. They will administer the 21 new provinces created in July from six of Congo’s previous 11 provinces. The other five older provinces were untouched in the decentralization initiative.

Two deputy commissioners were also named in each province to oversee economic and political matters.

The government has justified the measure as a temporary response to an order by the constitutional court last month to take exceptional measures to address a state of what it called political anarchy in the new provinces.

Critics, however, say the nominations aim to reinforce Kabila’s hold on security and revenue flows in the provinces ahead of a presidential election due in November next year.

Kabila has seen his support erode over the past year. Around 40 people were killed in protests in January over proposed changes to the electoral code that critics said would delay the presidential poll.

Opponents argue that Kabila, who became president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, President Laurent Kabila, hopes to cling to power by delaying a slate of local, provincial and national elections over the next 13 months.

The first elections in the cycle, for provincial deputies and local counselors, were missed last Sunday after the constitutional court ordered that elections for new provincial governors happen first.

Kabila, who won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011, is barred by the constitution from standing for a third term next year. The president has refused to publicly comment on his political future, though a spokesman has said he intends to respect the constitution.

The government has stressed that the commissioners will only serve temporarily but has not yet announced a date for the gubernatorial elections.

(Corrects number of new provinces to 21 from 19)

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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