Catholic bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have requested that President Joseph Kabila affirm that he will not claim a third term of presidency at the conclusion of his constitutionally-limited two terms in power.
“We urge you to reassure the public opinion by a public statement that you will not be a candidate for your own succession,” read a statement from the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) on Monday.
“We are convinced that this would contribute to easing political tensions,” the statement continued.
President Kabila has been in power since 2001, when his father Laurent Kabila was assassinated. His two-term limit expired in December 2016, but he has refused to step down and did not allow elections for the next president. An agreement between Kabila’s government and opposition parties calls for elections to be held by the end of 2017.
The bishops conference, CENCO, aided in negotiating the so-called New Year’s Eve Agreement. However, observers say the terms of the deal have not been upheld, and Kabila has cited reasons to stall ongoing negotiations, and the election.
“CENCO wishes to remind all political actors and the entire Congolese people that the New Year’s Eve Agreement is not dead,” said the bishops. “It is and remains the only consensual roadmap to emerge from this political crisis that has lasted too long,” they continued.
On Tuesday, the UN urged the country to hold elections in December 2018 in order to peacefully maneuver the transition of power, and Congo’s elections authority says a vote will take place before then.
“The members of the Security Council emphasised the critical importance of ensuring the elections are not postponed further,” read a statement from the UN Security Council.
The UN also encouraged that the next elections be held “with the requisite conditions of transparency, credibility and inclusivity, and lead to a peaceful transfer of power.”
Kabila’s refusal to stand down has escalated political violence within the country. The Congolese bishops noted their disappointment with the ongoing negotiations with Kabila, saying the country’s citizens are suffering the consequences of his intransigence.
“The political imbroglio and the suffering of the population which results from it exceed the tolerable threshold. We are deeply disappointed to find ourselves in the same context of tension as at the end of 2016,” the bishops said. “The people will not tolerate this being repeated in 2018.”