Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament approved several controversial voting reforms Saturday, which are expected to boost President Joseph Kabila's chances of re-election in the fall, after opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote in protest.
REUTERS - Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament approved controversial voting reforms on Saturday expected to boost incumbent President Joseph Kabila's chances of re-election in November.
A joint sitting of the central African state's lower and upper house backed eight changes to the constitution, including a move to reduce the vote to a single round from two -- meaning the next president can be elected without an absolute majority.
The measures were passed easily by a show of hands after opposition lawmakers boycotted the sitting as a protest. Out of 504 that voted, 485 were in favour, eight were against and 11 abstained.
Kabila has cited the row after Ivory Coast's two-round vote as justification for avoiding a run-off -- an argument rejected by opponents who threaten street protests against the move.
The new rules will mean that whoever gets the highest score in a sole round of voting will become president regardless of their score. Under a two-round system the top two must battle it out in a run-off if no candidate gets an absolute majority.
While some of Kabila's opponents might have thrown their weight behind whoever of them made it into the run-off, it is unclear how many are ready to sacrifice their own ambitions to back a unified opposition candidate in a single-round vote.
The reforms also postpone plans to increase the number of provinces in the country to 26 from 11, an already overdue move to decentralise power away from the government in Kinshasa.
Other changes will see the prosecutor's office placed under the Justice Ministry -- a change some argue will undermine its independence -- and give the president the power to call referendums, dissolve provincial assemblies and fire governors.
Kabila came to power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent. He led a transitional government in 2003 following the end of a vicious civil war that left some five million people dead.
In 2006 he won the country's first ever democratic vote, beating Jean Pierre Bemba in a second round run off which was marred by clashes between rival supporters when more than three hundred people were killed in the capital.
Since then the country has attracted growing numbers of international investors keen to exploit the vast mineral resources there, including a $6 billion mining and infrastructure deal with China.
But despite relative stability and economic growth, Kabila has had little success tackling violence in the east of the country where rebels, militias and rogue army units operate.