A basic law ( loi fondamentale ) was adopted in early 1960, before independence, pending the adoption of a permanent constitution by a constituent assembly. It provided for a division of executive powers between the head of state (president) and the head of government (premier). The premier and a cabinet known as the Council of Ministers were both responsible to the bicameral legislature on all matters of policy. This document was replaced by a constitution adopted in 1964 and modeled closely on the 1958 constitution of the French Fifth Republic. Under its terms, the president determined and directed the policy of the state and had the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister. The powers of the parliament were sharply reduced. After his takeover in November 1965, Gen. Mobutu initially adhered to the 1964 constitution, but in October 1966 he combined the office of prime minister with the presidency. In June 1967, a new constitution was promulgated. It provided for a highly centralized form of presidential government and virtually eliminated the autonomy that provincial authorities had previously exercised.
The constitution was further amended on 23 December 1970 when the MPR was proclaimed the sole party of the republic. MPR primacy over all other national institutions, which resulted from the 1970 establishment of a single-party system, was affirmed in constitutions promulgated in 1974 and 1978. Instead of directly electing the president of the republic, voters confirmed the choice made by the MPR for its chairman, who automatically became the head of state and head of the government. The president's leading role in national affairs was further institutionalized by constitutional provisions that made him the formal head of the Political Bureau, of the Party Congress, and of the National Executive and National Legislative councils.
Organs of the MPR included the 80-member Central Committee, created in 1980 as the policy-making center for both party and government; the 16-member Political Bureau; the Party Congress, which was supposed to meet every five years; the National Executive Council (or cabinet); and the National Legislative Council, a unicameral body with 310 members. The Legislative Council was elected by universal suffrage from MPR-approved candidates. In practice, however, most government functions were directly controlled by President Mobutu through his personal entourage and through numerous aides and advisers. The constitution was amended in April 1990 to permit the formation of alternative parties.
In 1990, Mobutu was challenged by a rival government, and he was unable to secure compliance with his decrees. In September 1993, the transitional Tshisekedi government elected by the National Conference in August 1992 and the Mobutu forces agreed on a draft constitution for the Third Republic and on an electoral process leading to a popular government in 1995. However, on 14 January 1994, Mobutu dismissed both governments and rival parliaments, a move that had little effect on the nation. Zaire had (as it had since 1992) two ineffectual governments, neither of which was capable of carrying out policy.
A rival legislature, the 435-member High Council of the Republic (HCR) was established by the National Conference in December 1992, and a government set up by the HCR and headed by Prime Minister Tshisekedi claimed to rule. Yet the army evicted his officers from government facilities. Mobutu repeatedly tried to remove Tshisekedi from office, but Tshisekedi refused to recognize Mobutu's authority to do so. Mobutu had de facto control of the administration but it was unable to act effectively. As a result of this stalemate, the government virtually collapsed.
With the overthrow of the Mobutu in 1997, much uncertainty prevailed concerning the structure and organization of the new government. Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the names of some provinces were changed. Bas-Zaire became Bas-Congo; Haut-Zaire became Province Orientale; Shaba assumed its former name, Katanga; and the two Kivus and Maniema were grouped together as one Kivu. In September 1997, Laurent Kabila had named several associates to the ministries, and others to governor posts. In November 1998, he approved a draft constitution, but it was not ratified by a national referendum; one outcome of the ongoing inter-Congolese dialogue is to be a new constitution.
On 29 May 2003, a transitional government led by Joseph Kabila was to have been inaugurated with 35 cabinet positions and four vice presidents, each representing one of the signatories to the Pretoria agreement—the government, the unarmed opposition, the MLC and the RCD. The establishment of the unity government was delayed indefinitely by RCD-Goma, which objected to the composition of the national army. National elections were due to take place two years following the launch of the unity government.
The December 2002 Pretoria agreement also called for the establishment of a transition Parliament comprising a 500-member National Assembly and a 120-member Senate with deputies appointed by their respective parties. Other transition bodies include an electoral commission, a media-regulator, a truth and reconciliation commission, a national human rights watchdog, and an anti-corruption commission.