DR Congo election: Presidential poll hit by delays

Sunday’s vote for a new president in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been hit by a series of delays that have left people frustrated.

The failure of new electronic voting machines in some polling stations was one of the challenges.

Polls have now closed in an election that is expected to bring the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

President Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 17 years in power.

The final result is expected be announced in a week’s time.

The election should have taken place two years ago but was repeatedly postponed because of logistical problems, officials said.

The run-up to the poll had been hit by violence and controversy over the decision to exclude some 1.26 million out of an electorate of nearly 40 million from voting.

Polls opened at 05:00 (04:00 GMT) and officially closed at 17:00, but people still in the queue at that time have been allowed to vote.

How did the day go?

Things started slowly in the capital, Kinshasa, because of heavy rain, reports the BBC’s Louise Dewast.

There have been delays in a number of areas because of problems with the electronic voting machines, which are being used for the first time.

There was frustration in Limete, a district of Kinshasa, as the electoral register had not been delivered and people were unable to vote.

Those waiting then booed the head of the electoral commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa, who had come to the scene.

In Goma, in the east, voting was continuing 90 minutes after the polls had officially closed.

This was partly because they had opened late and people were taking longer to vote than expected.

There were also isolated incidents of violence caused by problems with the way the vote was being managed, our correspondent says.

A police officer and a civilian were killed in Walungu, South Kivu province, in an altercation at a polling station, a UN official told the BBC.

Calm despite delays

The heavy morning rain inundated many of the capital’s dirt roads and meant things started slowly.

There were also problems with the electronic voting machines and the failure to display the electoral register.

Despite the chaotic electoral process, things were generally calm and voters seemed glad that this historic day had finally come.

The next hurdle will be the compilation of results. This crucial step has proved problematic in previous elections and led EU and US observers to conclude that they had not been credible.

Who’s running for president?

Composite of three candidates (L-R): Martin Fayulu, Emmanuel Shadary and Felix Tshisekedi

Opposition candidates Martin Fayulu (L) and Felix Tshisekedi (R) face Emmanuel Shadary (C), the former interior minister

There are 21 candidates, but three frontrunners:

  • Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister and Kabila loyalist, who was hit by European Union sanctions for his role in the violent suppression of opposition protests in 2017
  • Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who has promised “a dignified and prosperous Congo”, but who poor Congolese feel may not advance their cause
  • Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the son of a late veteran opposition leader who has promised to make the fight against poverty his priority

Regional observers will be keeping a close eye on voting, but European and US observers, who had concluded previous elections in the country had lacked credibility, have not been invited.

What did the voters say?

Fidele Imani voted in Kinshasa and told the BBC: “We have been waiting for two years and I’m happy to vote today. We want change here, we need peace and security and people need more employment opportunities.”

A voter in the city told the BBC: “We come to vote. I don’t know if my voice will count or not. I really don’t know, but I will always come and vote.”

Francois Balumwege, also voted in the capital: “I feel liberated I am happy, I completed my civic duty, I have just voted in an election which is, for us today, very historic. Because it will allow the Congolese to see one president hand over power to another president.”

‘Citizen votes’

This week, voting in three districts was postponed until March, with the electoral commission blaming insecurity and an Ebola virus outbreak.

About 1.26 million people were not able to vote on Sunday as a result.

The decision in effect cancelled their votes, as the new president is due to be sworn in by mid-January regardless.

But some activists in places where polling has been cancelled have organised their own election, dubbed “citizen votes”, the BBC’s Gaius Kowene reports from the main eastern city of Goma.

They are using ballot boxes from the 2011 elections and printed their own voting papers.

“We want to show the Ceni that if they fail to organise elections here because of Ebola, we can do it,” organiser Katembo Malikidogo told the BBC.

What’s the context for these elections?

The current president took over from his assassinated father Laurent in 2001, but he was barred from running for another consecutive term under the constitution.

He was supposed to step down two years ago, but the election was postponed after the electoral commission said it needed more time to register voters.

Joseph Kabila voting
Joseph Kabila

The decision triggered violent clashes, as the opposition accused Mr Kabila of trying to cling on to power.

Then last week, the election was delayed again, for seven days, because of problems deploying voting materials to polling sites.

This all came after thousands of electronic voting machines – being used for the first time – were destroyed in a fire in Kinshasa.

Speaking at a polling station, the president tried to address concerns about the voting, saying: “It’s clear that the elections are free and fair.”

credit: bbc.com

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