Congo’s Tshisekedi boosts influence with new constitutional court judges

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi holds the constitution after being sworn in in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. File picture: Jerome Delay/AP

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi holds the constitution after being sworn in in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. File picture: Jerome Delay/AP

Published Oct 21, 2020


* Judges' appointments is victory for president

* Predecessor had sought to retain sway over court

* Rivalry within coalition could deepen political paralysis

By Hereward Holland and Stanis Bujakera

KINSHASA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Three constitutional courtjudges selected by Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi were swornin on Wednesday after months of delay, granting him greaterinfluence over lawmaking and election issues and riling hiscoalition partner.

The appointments mark a major victory for Tshisekedi overhis long-serving predecessor Joseph Kabila, who has sought tomaintain sway over the nine-judge court since leaving power in2019. Each man now has four judges likely to back him, analystssaid.

Tshisekedi and Kabila formed a coalition governmentfollowing Democratic Republic of Congo's disputed 2018 election,but their partnership has soured.

The swearing in of the judges by parliament could deepentheir rift, the analysts said, potentially damaging efforts tosolve Congo's many security and economic problems and attractinvestment in its copper, cobalt and gold mines, oil fields andvast forests.

Tshisekedi flashed a smile and a v-sign for victory onentering parliament on Wednesday for a ceremony delayed bymonths of debate over the legality of the appointments.

"I acknowledge your swearing in and congratulate you," hetold the judges after they took their oaths.

Kabila's FCC political alliance, which controls the senateand national assembly, said the appointments wereunconstitutional and boycotted the ceremony.

It argues that Tshisekedi made space on the court by forcingout one judge before the end of his term and promoting twoothers to another court against their will, charges thepresident denies.

"The appointments and replacements of the judges concerned... are null and of no effect," the FCC said in a statement onTuesday.

Greater control of the court could shield the president fromimpeachment and strengthen his hand when fighting off politicalchallenges from the FCC-controlled legislature.

It could also increase political tensions, although there isno sign yet of a total breakdown in the Tshisekedi-Kabilarelationship. Some analysts say it is in both parties' interestto keep their alliance afloat ahead of the 2023 presidentialelections.

"Immediately it creates more paralysis and we will get shortterm tensions between the parties," said Vincent Rouget, ananalyst from London-based security consultancy Control Risks.

Civil society groups have spoken out against politicalappointments in the judiciary, regardless of who is in charge.Some said they had hoped the age of overwhelming presidentialinfluence was on the wane when Kabila's 18-year rule ended.

"Replacing judges under the orders of Kabila by judges underthe orders of Tshisekedi does not advance the rule of law,"LUCHA, a youth activist group, said on Twitter.(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Hereward HollandWriting by Hereward HollandEditing by Edward McAllister and Philippa Fletcher)

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