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News > World

DR Congo: Opposition Warns Against More Election Delays

  • Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, the main opposition party's leader, chant slogans during an election event Friday.

    Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi, the main opposition party's leader, chant slogans during an election event Friday. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 December 2018

Much is at stake for the country in what could be the first democratic transition of power in it's history.

Opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accused election officials of attempting to provoke unrest by postponing Sunday's presidential vote by a week and warned they would not tolerate any more delays.

DR Congo Election Delayed by 10 Days, Not Enough Ballots

Felix Tshisekedi, a leading opposition candidate, urged his supporters to stay calm despite the electoral board's (CENI) decision Thursday to defer voting, which has been delayed several times since 2016.

Tshisekedi and opposition members claim the CENI takes orders from the government and is trying to provoke protests in order to later accuse them of causing disruptions.

"We are aware of this strategy. That's why I ask you to remain calm and respect the position that we are announcing," Tshisekedi said at the headquarters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party.

The  DRC's electoral board announced this week that the election was postponed to Dec. 30 after explaining a fire had destroyed ballot and voting materials. In a statement, the CENI said the blaze had destroyed 8,000 of 10,368 voting machines to be used in the capital Kinshasa. Initially, they said the election would go ahead as scheduled but later retracted. 

Opposition candidate Martin Fayulu suggested that state security forces might have been behind the blaze.

UDPS secretary-general Jean-Marc Kabund told supporters that any further delays would not be accepted, and the new election date of Dec. 30 was "a red line."

"If there is a delay of the election after the 30th, you don't need to wait for our instructions," Kabund said.

Presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi urged supporters to remain calm. | Source: Reuters

The International Rescue Committee, a New York-based aid group that operates in Congo, said Thursday that further delays "would be exceptionally damaging to the country's rule of law" and worsen a humanitarian crisis that has made 13 million people dependent on assistance due to hunger, disease, and conflict.

The DRC is host to the second-largest Ebola outbreak in the region, which the country and international health organizations have been grappling with for months. The outbreak is localized in Congo's eastern region, where an armed conflict between military forces and rebel groups is unfolding.

In recent months, protests demanding President Joseph Kabila to step down have claimed the lives of dozens of Congolese. There is a sense in the country that delaying the elections gives Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila’s handpicked candidate, the opportunity to win.

The vote has already been delayed for two years. President Kabila is stepping down after 18 years in office. If successful, the election would be DR Congo's first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kabila's refusal to step down after his mandate ended in December 2016 triggered violent protests in which security forces killed dozens of people and contributed to a spike in militia violence across the country as armed groups moved to exploit a perceived power vacuum.

Last week, security forces fired live bullets and tear gas to disperse supporters of opposition candidates, including Tshisekedi and Fayulu, who are competing against Shadary.

People lined the streets Friday for an election event in Kinshasa. | Source: Reuters 

At least seven opposition supporters were killed in the violence, which the government blamed on opposition "extremists."

Independent experts have questioned whether the one-week delay will be enough to organize the poll, both in Kinshasa and remote areas of Congo's vast forested interior.

Joseph Olenghankoy, the president of a government commission charged with monitoring election preparations, urged authorities to accept logistical support from the United Nations to deploy voting materials Friday.

The government has rejected assistance from foreign donors, including the 16,000-member U.N. peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, saying that would infringe on national sovereignty.
A U.N. spokeswoman in Kinshasa said the mission was prepared to provide logistical support if asked but had not received a request.

A CENI spokesman said the commission would ask for U.N. help if necessary but added: "For the moment, we are getting by with the means the government has made available to us."

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