Amid Kabila stand-off, Congo parliament extends privileges to former presidents

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila (L) listens to deliberations during the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) at the Commonwealth Resort Hotel Munyonyo in the capital of Kampala August 8, 2012. African leaders of the Great Lakes region say they will impose sanctions on any party obstructing peace in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday. The decision was reached at the end of a two-day leaders summit on the conflict in Uganda. REUTERS/Edward Echwalu (UGANDA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s parliament has passed a law expanding financial privileges for former presidents, lawmakers said on Thursday, a move seen as an incentive for President Joseph Kabila to step down following an election in December.

Kabila is barred by constitutional term limits from seeking a third term in the election but has so far refused to publicly rule out a run. Some of his allies have in recent weeks advanced a legal argument they say would justify his candidacy.

If Kabila does step down, it would mark Congo’s first democratic transition since independence from Belgium in 1960 after decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups and catastrophic civil wars.

The deadline for candidates to declare they will run is in just under three weeks, and Kabila was due to make a rare public statement to parliament later on Thursday, fuelling speculation that he may settle the question one way or the other.

The law adopted by parliament on Wednesday includes post-presidency perks including a pension, housing, security, health care and a diplomatic passport, national deputies Juvenal Munubo and Jean-Luc Mutokambali told Reuters.

Former presidents already enjoy considerable legal immunity under the constitution, which designates them senators for life.

The version that has been sent to Kabila for his signature also extends those privileges to other government officials, including the heads of the National Assembly and Senate. The Senate’s original version would have only applied to ex-presidents.

Kabila was due to leave office after an election in November 2016, but the vote has been repeatedly delayed, sparking a series of violent protests in which security forces have killed dozens of people.