The Democratic Republic of Congo general election scheduled for December 23rd could be postponed due to the lack of voting machines and the Ebola outbreak. This came out after Electoral Commission CENI President Corneille Nangaa had a closed-door meeting with presidential candidates, where it is said CENI proposed delaying the election.
A warehouse fire destroyed over 8000 voting machines allocated to Kinshasa polling stations last week. This is about three quarters of the voting machines needed in the city, CENI had initially said it will hold elections as scheduled. The government and the opposition have counter-accused each other for causing the alleged arson at the warehouse.
On December 19th CENI Spokesperson, Pierre Kalamba, said the commission was considering delaying the election, if machines destroyed in fire were not replaced in time.
Presidential hopeful Theodore Ngoy told Reuters that in the meeting Nangaa told candidates that CENI was technically unable to hold the poll on December 23rd and proposed to change the date. Presidential candidates are deliberating over the proposal to delay the election.
If the election goes ahead it will be the first democratic transition of power in the landlocked nation’s beleaguered history. This is will be the DRC’s third election after decades of civil war under the dictatorship of Mobutu Seseseko. If all goes according to plan this will be an election that will see a new president, as the incumbent, Joseph Kabila, cannot stand for a third term due to the two-term presidential limit in the country’s constitution. Kabila was elected in 2006 and 2011 but delayed the election scheduled for 2016 by two years citing lack of funds to hold an election.
Kabila’s favoured successor his former interior minister, Emmanuel Shadary, who is the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy’s presidential candidate. He is on the European Union’s sanctions list because he is accused of violently targeting political opponents.
Opposition forerunners who could upset the ruling party are Martin Fayulu, leader of the Lamuka Coalition, and Felix Tshisekedi, who leads another popular coalition.
“After having prevented me from landing in Kindu, after having attacked the procession and killed my supporters in Lubumbashi and Kalemie, hijacked my plane to Goma after an attack on the procession to Masimanimba, Kabila prevents me from returning to Kin. What are they afraid of? I have only my God and my people,” lamented Martin Fayulu, after his Kinshasa rally was blocked by the Governor of Kinshasa, Andre Kimbuta, who had suspended campaigning in the capital.
Opposition parties have accused the government of manipulating the election, blocking rallies and abusing state resources in favour of Shadary. There have been clashes between supporters and police where civilians were injured. The police have accused the opposition of planning disruptions, as evidenced by the blocking of Shadary’s rally and raiding of Kabila’s party offices in the Kasai region.
There is still conflict in the vast nation’s eastern regions where United Nations Peacekeepers are deployed to protect civilians. The rebel group, the Armed Democratic Forces, have been accused of killings and rapes in Northern Kivu. This is the same region which has been hit by the Ebola outbreak, which has so far claimed 272 lives. Instability has made it difficult for health services to reach affected people.
On Wednesday, there were deadly ethnic clashes between the Batende and Banunu groups in the Mai-Ndombe province in north-west DRC. Though not directly linked to elections the violence is believed to be a chieftainship wrangle. What is most worrying about this is the proximity to the election on December 23rd.
There are 21 presidential candidates and thousands more competing for local government, provincial and National Assembly seats. There are 40 million registered voters in the DRC.