The opposition parties have long alleged that the country’s term-limited incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, will employ all means at his disposal to extend his tenure, which began in 2001. The country’s top court ruled in May that Kabila will will retain the constitutional powers of his office beyond the end of his five-year mandate if the election of a successor is delayed.

In a bid to ease political tensions ahead of a formal announcement of changes to the electoral calendar, the government has organized a national dialogue, which got under way in early September. However, only two opposition parties agreed to participate, and both withdrew in protest over the government’s insistence that local and provincial elections be held ahead of national elections, a plan that would likely push the earliest possible date for a presidential election into 2018, and would provide the PPRD with an opportunity to tighten its control over the administration of elections at the sub-national level.

The danger of an escalation of domestic unrest is clear, and the risk of deadly violence is compounded by the persistence of ethnic conflict and human rights abuses in the east, where an influx of South Sudanese fighters has only made matters worse. Strikes and public protests are already a regular occurrence, and a basis for compromise is lacking. Given the government’s history of responding to outbreaks of unrest with lethal force, the possibility of a breakdown of order that creates a pretext for suspending the constitution cannot be ruled out.

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