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In 2007 Andre Kasongo Ilunga was appointed Minister for Foreign Trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soon after, it was revealed that Ilunga was a fictitious person. Under Congolese government regulations, a party must propose at least two candidates for any ministerial role. To improve his own chances, the leader of a minor political party, Honorius Kisimba Ngoy, put forward Ilunga as a dummy candidate. This plan backfired when Ilunga was offered the position. The prime minister had in effect bestowed one of the most senior positions in the administration to a person whom he had never met and did not exist (Africa Research Bulletin 2007c). The appointment of Ilunga indicates that despite the success of free and fair elections in 2006, patronage networks and authoritarian procedures, rather than democratic institutions based on the rule of law, characterize the regime.
So how democratic is the Kabila regime? Have the legislature, judiciary, media, and electoral arena fostered democratic contestation? Are formal democratic institutions the principal means of obtaining and exercising political authority? Or has Kabila violated these rules to such an extent that the regime does not meet the minimum standards for modern democracy? This paper seeks to answer these questions and in doing so establish whether the Kabila regime can be classified as democratic, authoritarian, or competitive authoritarian.
The paper begins by establishing the theoretical framework for regime analysis, drawing on the competitive authoritarian regime subtype. Second, by examining democratic contestation within the legislature, judiciary, media, and electoral arena, it will contend that the Kabila regime can in fact be classified as competitive authoritarian. This paper will then unpack the domestic and international pressures behind Congolese democratic reform, arguing that because this process is essentially based on foreign aid feeding into corrupt patronage networks, it is inherently fragile. The final section of this paper will explore the vulnerability of the Kabila regime to authoritarian drift within the conceptual bounds of competitive authoritarianism with reference to a possible decrease in politically conditional foreign aid in conjunction with an increase in politically unconditional Chinese investment.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a proliferation of states experimenting with democratic rule in what Samuel Huntington (1991) termed the "third wave of democracy." More than a decade later, the most impressive growth has not been of democratic regimes, but of pseudodemocracies, in which elections and democratic institutions mask authoritarian elements.
In democratic discourse there has been a proliferation in labels applied to pseudodemocratic hybrid-regime forms. (1) These include illiberal democracy (Zakaria 1997), electoral democracy (Diamond 1999), semidemocracy (Case 1996), semidictatorship (Brooker 2000), electoral authoritarianism (Schedler 1996), soft authoritarianism (Means 1996), semi-authoritarianism (Olcott and Ottaway 1999), and competitive authoritarianism (Levitsky and Way 2002). A central tenet of these regime subtypes is that "democratic political institutions, such as multiparty electoral competition, masks [sic] the reality of authoritarian domination" (Diamond 2002:24).
The competitive authoritarian concept proposed by Levitsky and Way is a specific form of gray-zone regime, which, unlike many other classifications, is endowed with conceptual precision. Competitive authoritarian regimes are defined as "civilian regimes in which democratic institutions exist and permit meaningful competition for power, but where the political playing field is so heavily tilted in favour of incumbents that the regime cannot be labelled democratic" (Levitsky and Way 2005:20).
Levitsky and Way argue that modern democracies meet the following criteria: the legislature and executive are chosen through free and fair elections; virtually all adults have the right to vote; political rights, including the freedom of the press and freedom to criticize the government without reprisals, are protected; and elected leaders are given real authority to govern. While these criteria may be violated in democratic regimes, these violations are not considered broad or systemic enough to undermine democratic competition. In competitive authoritarian regimes by comparison these criteria are met, but are violated with such regularity and to such a degree that the regime cannot be considered a modern democracy (Levitsky and Way 2002:53).
Levitsky and Way have characterized the functioning of competitive authoritarian regimes as follows:
Although elections are regularly held and are generally free of massive fraud, incumbents routinely abuse state resources, deny the opposition adequate media coverage, harass opposition candidates and their supporters, and in some cases manipulate electoral results. Journalists, opposition politicians, and other government critics may be spied on, threatened, harassed, or arrested. Members of the opposition may be jailed, exiled, or--less frequently--even assaulted or murdered. (2002:53)
In competitive authoritarian regimes, arenas of democratic contestation exist through which the opposition can periodically challenge, weaken, and in some cases overthrow the leadership. The leadership must balance the politically costly repression of opposition with tolerance of oppositional challenges which may result in a loss of power (Levitsky and Way 2002:59). Levitsky and Way identify four arenas of particular importance: the electoral arena, the legislature, the judiciary and the media (2002:54). This paper will now examine how these arenas have fared in postconflict DRC. This will then be used to evaluate the performance of Congolese democracy.
On 18 December 2005 the DRC adopted a constitution rooted in political liberalism. The constitution reaffirmed universal suffrage and established a roadmap for multiparty elections by 2006. The constitution reduced the minimum age of presidential candidates from 35 to 30, to include 33-year-old Kabila (Government of the DRC 2005:5).
Approximately eighteen million people across the country turned out on 30 July 2006 to vote. Of the 500 seats in the National Assembly, Kabila's Party of the People for Reconstruction won 111, the main opposition contender Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombe's Movement for the Liberation of Congo won 64, and Antoine Gizenga's Unified Lumumbist Party won 34; the remainder was split among 67 smaller parties (Weiss 2007:138). The Alliance for Presidential Majority, composed of parties loyal to Kabila and Gizenga, formed a government. The presidential elections were highly competitive with none of the 33 presidential candidates winning an outright victory; Kabila won the second-round runoff on 20 August 2006 with 58 percent of the vote (Africa Research Bulletin 2006). Administered by an independent electoral commission established by the transition government, the elections were declared to be free and fair (Diamond 2002:28).
While intense competition throughout the election period was facilitated by a relatively independent media, most media outlets were biased in their depiction of parties and candidates, in a number of cases resorting to personal attacks; of the 119 radio stations, 52 television stations and 179 newspapers operating in the DRC hardly any were neutral, with a majority owned by presidential candidates (International Crisis Group 2006:5). However, as no party or candidate had a monopoly over the media, competition ensued.
While the elections were generally peaceful, the afternoon of the presidential runoff saw an outbreak of violence between Bemba's militia and Kabila's Presidential Guard. The violence was triggered by the broadcast of media reports critical of Kabila by a television station …