Is this the death of the MLC? Not quite yet, put there was something of a death rattle this past week. The first was the election of Jean-Claude Baende as governor of Equateur with 60 of the 108 votes in the provincial assembly, defeating the MLC candidate Jean-Lucien Busa. An amazing feat in a provincial assembly where the MLC's coalition (L'Union pour la nation, UN) controls around half of the seats and Kabila's AMP coalition, which Baende was representing, only has around a third of the parliamentarians.
In part, this was due to the divisions within the MLC/UN - Gabriel Bolenge had defected from the party to run on his own ticket, splitting the MLC vote. But even then, Baende must have obtained some MLC/UN votes to win the election.
This whole episode is reminiscent of the 2007 gubernatorial elections throughout the Congo - the MLC had an absolute majority of provincial assembly seats in Kinshasa and Bas-Congo, was expected to win in Equateur and has a good chance of winning the Kasai-Occidental elections. Allegations of fraud and vote-buying proliferated before the elections. As it is only a small number of politicians in the provincial assemblies who elect senators and governors, it is relatively easy to buy them off. Jean-Pierre Bemba even went so far as to lock the provincial MPs in Kinshasa in a house together the night before the vote to prevent them from being bought off. To no avail: the indirect elections of senators and governors in 2007 was one of the most scandalous periods of Congolese electoral history. Kabila's coalition won all the provinces except Equateur, a prize they have now also conquered with the elections of Jean-Claude Baende. And it is likely that he, too, had to buy votes to get through. This in a province where 97% of the population voted for Bemba over Kabila in 2006. Depressing - this has led many commentators to call for a revision of the constitution to allow direct elections of senators and governors.
As a reminder, the MLC governor of Equateur, Jose Makila, was impeached for mismanagement several months ago. Baende had been his vice-governor. He, too, was later accused of mismanagement of funds.
The second nail in the MLC's coffin was to be expected - the date for JP Bemba's trial was set for 27 April 2010. That means he'll be in prison in The Hague for at least another 6 months.