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Voters go to the polls in DRC after years of delays

04 January 2019


A woman prays during a mass for a peaceful election in Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Kinshasa, DRC, last week

A woman prays during a mass for a peaceful election in Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Kinshasa, DRC, last week

AFTER delays of more than two years, elections took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sunday.

Voters went to the polls in the midst of a “logistical nightmare”, the BBC reported. The country is the second largest in Africa, roughly the size of Western Europe, and had endured the second-worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history. Conflict in the east of the country has killed five million people in the past 20 years.

With days to go, voting was suspended completely in three areas, disenfranchsing about 1.2 million voters. The electoral commission cited insecurity and Ebola, sparking protests. The new RC Archbishop of Kinshasa, the Most Revd Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, expressed his support for those protesting against the decision.

“Our brothers and sisters in Beni and Butembo say they feel betrayed and abandoned by their leaders, and they are right in doing so,” he said.

The RC Church, a significant force in the country, deployed 1026 long-term observers and 40,000 short-term observers across the country. Last year, the Church was among those leading protests calling for the constitution to be upheld and elections held (News, 26 January 2018).

At a press conference in Kinshasa on Thursday, an RC spokesman, Fr Donatien Nshole, said of the observer team: “Data in its possession from vote counting reports from polling stations designates the selection of one candidate as president.”

He called on officials “to publish the election results in keeping with truth and justice,” the BBC reported.

The Church’s observers reported that the vote had been delayed at 830 polling stations — about one fifth — and that about the same number were in “prohibited places”, including military camps, police posts, or private residences. It had received 544 reports of malfunctioning voting machines, 115 cases of election observers being kicked out of polling centres or not being allowed access, and 44 cases of vote-buying or corruption.

The opposition has complained that e-voting machines, used for the first time, are vulnerable to fraud and power failure. In December, a fire in the capital destroyed 8000 of them.

On Monday, the internet was shut down in major cities. Agence France-Presse has reported that telecoms providers have said that this was done on the orders of the government. The campaign team of the opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, said that it had been done to avoid news spreading of his “overwhelming victory”.

The President, Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, has promised the first orderly transition of power since DRC gained independence in 1960. He is supporting the ruling party’s candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, subject to EU sanctions for alleged human-rights violations committed during crackdowns on protesters last year.

On Christmas Eve, Archbishop Besungu said: “The true peace which comes from Jesus Christ for our country today also requires the declared results truly reflect the will of the people, as expressed in the ballot.

“True peace, especially in this agitated electoral period, consists of opening oneself to others, overcoming differences, and engaging together for construction of a better future. True peace excludes egoism, regionalism, tribalism, separation, and narrow categorisations.”

He compared the country’s population to the people of Israel, described by the prophet Isaiah: “the riches and treasures of their country were pillaged and exploited by foreigners,” plunging them into “depths of total despair.”

“Yet they still retained a strong glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow,” he said.

Provisional results are not expected until Sunday.

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