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The Mobutu Years, Political Maneuvers

Tshisekedi, bicameral parliament, democratization process, American civilians, constitutional referendum

Discontent with Mobutu intensified in the early 1990s, and he spent more and more time away from Kinshasa at a palace he had built near his ancestral village of Gbadolite. Under pressure from the opposition, Mobutu announced the creation of a multiparty democratic system in April 1990. In August 1991 a national multiparty conference convened to draft a new constitution and prepare for elections. However, the chaotic conference, attended by almost 3,000 delegates, disintegrated after only a week. Meanwhile, outbreaks of violence and looting led many European and American civilians to flee the country. In September 1991 Mobutu agreed to form a coalition government with UDPS leader Etienne Tshisekedi as prime minister. Mobutu fired Tshisekedi a month later. The conference reopened in January 1992, only to be closed again by Mobutuís hand-picked prime minister for seemingly unreasonable objections. In retaliation, some soldiers attempted to overthrow the government, but were crushed by loyalist troops. In April 1992, amid continuing unrest, the conference reassembled to draw up a new constitution. The conference soon declared itself the rightful governing body of Zaire. In August the conference appointed Tshisekedi prime minister, this time to head a newly assembled transitional government. Mobutu consented to recognize this arrangement in return for retaining control of the army and his position as head of state.

In November 1992 the conference adopted a draft constitution that shifted most executive and military powers to the prime minister, set up a bicameral parliament, and called for a popularly elected but largely ceremonial president. The conference dissolved itself and an interim government, the High Council of the Republic (HCR), was established to organize elections. Although some foreign nations recognized this body, led by Tshisekedi, Mobutu refused to acknowledge its authority and appointed a different transitional government and prime minister. Throughout 1993 Mobutu and the HCR operated as rival governments, each claiming authority. In 1994 Mobutu declared the HCR and his own government dissolved, replacing both with a transitional legislature known as the High Council of the Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT). In April the HCR-PT approved the Transitional Constitutional Act, calling for a constitutional referendum and presidential and legislative elections within 15 months. Leon Kengo wa Dondo, a more moderate opposition figure than Tshisekedi, was elected prime minister by the HCR-PT, but Tshisekedi maintained his claim to the office. The rivalry between HCR members and the HCR-PT further confused an already chaotic political scene, effectively fracturing the anti-Mobutu movement. With the opposition powerless and disorganized, Mobutu continued to dodge the democratization process. In June 1995 the HCR-PT voted to extend the transition period for another two years.

Article key phrases:

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