— Congo's constitutional court said Wednesday the president can stay in office beyond his mandate if there is a delay in presidential elections, slated for November.
President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001 and is meant to leave office in December, is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.
The opposition has voiced concerns for some time that Kabila would delay elections to stay in power.
"Following the principle of continuity for the state and to avoid a lack of head of state, the current president remains in office until the installation of a newly-elected president," said the Constitutional Court statement read by its head, Benoit Luamba Bintu. The court was responding to a request to clarify the matter by a coalition of political parties that back the president.
The electoral commission has warned it would be difficult to hold the election within the constitutional timeline.
The commission's head, Corneille Nangaa, had called for a political agreement to allow for the body to organize the election beyond November 2016.
Mass protests erupted last year against proposed changes to the electoral law, widely seen as a ploy to prolong Kabila's rule. A security crackdown killed more than 40 people at demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said. The revision was scrapped.
Congo has not had a peaceful transfer of power in its 55 years of independence.
In recent months, the United Nations has denounced what it calls arbitrary arrests of opponents and activists and the U.S. has expressed concern about legal action against pro-democracy activists. The U.S.
has in the past called for adherence to the constitutional electoral timeline.