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The Legislature

The Zairian government has, since independence, included a legislative branch of government, but its powers have been steadily eroded by the presidency. The Fundamental Law, in effect from 1960 to 1964, created a bicameral legislature, which had substantial powers in that it both elected the president, who served as head of state, and chose the prime minister and cabinet ministers. But the document did not adequately define the division of power between the executive and legislative branches and thus contributed significantly to the breakdown of public order shortly after independence. The 1964 constitution retained the bicameral parliament and gave it both legislative responsibilities and the power to approve the president's appointment or dismissal of the prime minister. But after Mobutu's coup in 1965, the president increasingly assumed legislative powers. The 1967 constitution replaced the bicameral parliament with the unicameral National Assembly, which had little formal or real power because of the power given the president to rule by executive order, which carried the force of law.

According to the provisions of the 1974 constitution, the National Legislative Council (Conseil National Législatif--CNL; the new name for the former National Assembly, adopted in July 1972) remained one of the five organs of government. But it was subordinate to the party, the supreme institution of the state; the president, who was automatically president of all five organs of government; and the president's appointed ministers. The constitution provided for only limited legislative powers, in that members of the CNL, elected to five-year terms, had the right to initiate laws "concurrently" with the president.

In reality, the CNL operated within very narrow boundaries. Real legislative power was wielded by the Central Committee of the MPR, while the CNL was relegated to the subordinate position of approving party initiatives. The CNL did, however, serve as a lightning rod for the population's resentment of its treatment by the regime, particularly after 1977, when multiple candidatures for legislative seats were allowed for the first time (although all still ran under the banner of the MPR). In the September 1982 legislative elections, for example, only sixty out of 310 members of parliament were reelected.

The high point of legislative independence had come earlier, in the late 1970s. Early in 1977, the CNL had rejected the budget submitted to it by the president and denounced excessive presidential spending. Moreover, the new CNL elected that year used questioning of ministers as a mechanism for raising policy issues.

In 1979 a group of deputies from Kasai-Oriental defied presidential pressure and affixed their signatures to a report charging that the army had been responsible for the massacre of approximately 300 diamond miners at Katekalay in Kasai-Oriental. In November 1980, these dissident deputies, who became known as the Thirteen (their actual number fluctuated from episode to episode), published a fifty-one-page open letter to President Mobutu, providing a comprehensive critique of Mobutu's autocracy. The Thirteen were careful to include in their number parliamentarians from various regions, to forestall the charge of tribalism. Writing in legal brief style, the authors of the letter dissociated themselves from any advocacy of violence, invoking the constitution itself as protection for the expression of their views. Following their formation in 1982 of a second party, the UDPS, the Thirteen were imprisoned, then released under amnesty in May 1983, with several later placed under house arrest or exiled. Despite the formation of such opposition groups, the banishment of some members was a constant reminder to other deputies that no organized opposition would be tolerated by Mobutu, however peaceful their methods or aims.

The Transitional Act passed in August 1992 created the HCR to serve as a legislature, as well as to amend and adopt a new constitution and oversee new legislative and presidential elections. In December 1992, the CNS dissolved itself and was succeeded by the HCR under the terms of the Transitional Act. The 453-member HCR, headed by Archbishop Mongsengwo, was, however, never accepted as valid by Mobutu. To prove his point, in October 1992 he reconvened the old legislature, or CNL, which had been dissolved by the CNS. Mobutu established the CNL as a rival to the HCR and charged the former with formulating a new draft constitution.

The political agreement on a new transitional constitution reportedly reached by pro-Mobutu and anti-Mobutu forces in October 1993 created a new 780-member legislature, to which the government will be responsible. Encompassing both the HCR and the CNL, the new body is to be called the High Council of the Republic (Haut Conseil de la République--HCR)-Parliament of the Transition (Parlement de la Transition--PT), or HCR-PT. At the end of 1993, however, no action had been taken to implement the agreement.

Data as of December 1993

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