With less than 20 days remaining before the third largest country in Africa goes to the polls, there are still doubts whether the election can truly represent the will of the people and bring peace in the war-torn nation. Already two years late, this election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could mark the first time in the beleaguered country’s history where there is a peaceful transition of power.
Corneille Nangaa, President of the independent electoral commission (CENI), has his work cut out for him to deliver a free and fair election. The commission is confident it can deliver a credible result before Christmas, saying the introduction of voting machines will make the process both transparent and fast to ensure the 40 million registered voters can cast their votes.
There has been much scepticism surrounding the machines, which opposition activists claim are actually more open to manipulation than traditional ballot boxes. They also doubt the practicality of the machines in rural areas. More than 10 million registered voters do not have their fingerprints and some are without identity cards. The CENI said it will address this issue but time is running out.
The banning of popular politicians such as Jean Pierre Bemba, who once served as a vice president, and Moise Katumbi, is believed to have been the government clearing the way for incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s coalition to win the election. More than 20 people will vie for the presidency.
Buckling to international pressure, Kabila himself will not take part in this election, which was meant to happen in 2016 when he reached his two term limit. Elected first in 2006 and then re-elected in 2011, he has been running the country since 2001, when he took over from his assassinated father Laurent Kabila.
Kabila’s favoured successor, his former interior minister Emmanuel Shadary, is the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy’s Presidential candidate. He is on the Europe sanctions list because he is accused of violently targeting political opponents. The African Union has called on the European Union to remove him from the list. Shadary’s walk into the Presidential Palace – The Palais de la Nation – could be easier with the state resources at his disposal as well as support from Kabila’s ruling coalition.
DRC’s opposition had cooked up a plan to have a grand coalition but talks to back one candidate, Martin Fayulu, collapsed when Vital Kamerhe and Felix Tshisekedi left the discussions. The two later went on to form a coalition which will have Tshisekedi running as president.
There are questions about how the DRC will ensure a representative and fair election will take place when there is armed conflict among rebel groups in the east of the vast nation, where United Nations Peacekeepers are struggling to maintain the peace and help the thousands of displaced persons. That troubled region has also been plagued by an outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has claimed 242 lives, and infected close to 400 people. How will an election be conducted under such circumstances?
Not only will it be a presidential election, the general elections will also see voters choosing their Members of the National Assembly as well as provincial leadership, which means there will be thousands of candidates at various tiers of government, further complicating what will be a landmark election in the DRC’s 68 years of independence.