KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Lawmakers in Congo have voted to remove Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba, paving the way for President Felix Tshisekedi to appoint someone more loyal.
The no confidence vote in Ilunkamba is the latest move by Tshisekedi to distance himself from a coalition formed with his predecessor, Joseph Kabila, the strongman who governed the impoverished Central African nation for 18 years.
The coalition with Kabila’s party has restricted Tshisekedi since he took office in 2019. Congo analysts say this week’s vote is a strategic move to weaken Kabila’s influence.
“This is indeed the first time Kabila has been significantly sidelined since he succeeded his father in 2001 and will significantly curtail his ability to run again in 2023,” said Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk consultancy.
“It clearly shows that Tshisekedi, a president deemed to be quite weak when he took power in 2019, has shown himself to be a capable political actor able to impose his authority on the Congolese political landscape. He will now focus his efforts on preparing for his re-election in 2023,” he said.
Tshisekedi won the 2019 election despite widespread allegations of large-scale fraud by Kabila to keep his party in power. Tshisekedi became president, but Kabila’s party retained control of the legislature. With the vote to remove the prime minister, Tshisekedi has mustered enough support in parliament to sideline Kabila’s party.
Prime Minister Ilunkamba, who held the post for more than a year and a half, was voted out with 367 out of 377 votes. Ilunkamba and other Kabila allies boycotted the vote, saying in a letter to parliament that the decision was an “unfounded political maneuver” and unconstitutional.
Tshisekedi is still forming his new political alliance, which he has named Sacred Union, to replace the coalition with Kabila’s party. Analysts say it could have 25 parties, a size that might make it hard to implement reforms such as tackling corruption and passing legislation.
But Tshisekedi’s supporters say despite potential challenges, it’s time for a change.
“I realized that the government was not represented enough and I took responsibility,” said Jolino Makelele, minister of communication and media who was present at the vote.