Delays blight Congo’s presidential vote as opposition cries foul

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Long queues, broken-down machines and torrential rain within the capital disrupted voting in Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-anticipated presidential ballot on Sunday, as the opposition alleged widespread irregularities.

Three opposition strongholds will see no casting of ballots in any respect after the authorities canceled the vote there, citing well being dangers from an ongoing Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.

Some polling locations in different opposition bastions within the capital Kinshasa didn’t open till greater than seven hours after the 6 a.m. (0500 GMT) begin as a result of voter rolls had not arrived.

Elections are a uncommon occasion in Congo, which has been affected by authoritarian rule, assassinations, coups and civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960.

If President Joseph Kabila, in energy since his father’s assassination in 2001, steps down after the vote it is going to be the nation’s first ever democratic transition.

Kabila voted early within the morning in Kinshasa on the identical faculty as the candidate he’s backing, former inside minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, whom the most recent opinion polls confirmed trailing two opposition candidates.

“My only concern is that we have this very heavy rain and probably voter turnout might be low, but hopefully the skies will clear, and the voters will turn out in numbers,” Kabila, sporting a darkish blue go well with, informed reporters.

The Catholic bishops convention (CENCO) stated digital voting machines, criticized by the opposition as susceptible to fraud, had dysfunctioned in no less than 544 of 12,300 polling locations it monitored. It additionally stated 846 polling stations have been put in in “prohibited places” like navy and police posts.

Some voters additionally complained they may not discover their names on the rolls, and flooded streets in Kinshasa prevented others from reaching their polling stations.

Vital Kamerhe, the marketing campaign director for Felix Tshisekedi, one of many two main opposition candidates within the race, stated he had obtained experiences of fraud in Shadary’s favor.

In the western metropolis of Inongo, Kamerhe stated, the top of a polling place was discovered voting a number of occasions for Shadary and three machines there have been changing votes for Tshisekedi into votes for Shadary.

Reuters couldn’t independently affirm the allegations, and the nationwide electoral fee (CENI) stated in a tweet that in Inongo and a number of other different cities, “voting operations are underway and everything is going well”.


Despite repeated delays to the competition, which was initially meant to happen in 2016, diplomats and ballot observers have stated authorities are ill-prepared, elevating fears of a repeat of the violence that adopted elections in 2006 and 2011.

Kabila’s settlement to stay to constitutional time period limits ought to symbolize progress for the mineral-rich nation. But he might proceed to train affect from the sidelines and has not dominated out operating once more for president in 2023.

Violent protests erupted this week after authorities introduced that voting had been canceled within the Ebola-hit jap cities of Beni and Butembo, their surrounding areas and the western metropolis of Yumbi.

Together, they account for greater than 1.2 million out of the Central African nation’s 40 million voters nationwide and are all thought of opposition bastions.

In Beni, dozens of voters lined up on Sunday morning to write down their selections on sheets of paper, residents stated.

Civilians queue to take part in a mock ballot after their exclusion from the presidential election in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo December 30, 2018. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

Voting was largely peaceable throughout the nation, however there have been just a few violent incidents. In the central metropolis of Kananga, the top of a polling place was crushed up by voters who suspected him of making an attempt to cheat when he moved a broken-down voting machine from the room, two native activists stated.

In jap Congo’s Masisi territory, militia fighters have been additionally reported round polling websites, pressuring folks to vote for his or her most popular candidates, a Western diplomat stated.

The most up-to-date ballot launched by New York University’s Congo Research Group on Friday confirmed former Exxon Mobil supervisor and opposition lawmaker Martin Fayulu main the race on 47 %, buoyed by discontent with Kabila’s 18-year tenure.

Under Kabila, Congo has seen sturdy financial progress from surging copper and cobalt output however solely meager enhancements to common folks’s high quality of life.

Another opposition chief, Felix Tshisekedi, trailed within the ballot with 24 %, whereas Shadary obtained 19 %.

“I will vote for Martin Fayulu,” stated Mama Wivine, 40 and unemployed, as she waited for the machine to reach at her polling place in Kinshasa’s Camp Luka neighborhood. “We hope he can bring jobs and better conditions for us Congolese. We are fed up with the regime of Kabila.”


After voting in Kinshasa, Fayulu stated: “Today, we mark the end of Mr. Kabila, the end of the misery of the Congolese people.”

But Shadary has large institutional benefits, together with round the clock protection on state media. Kabila appointees additionally dominate nationwide establishments.

“I think victory is on my side and that tonight I will be president,” Shadary stated after casting his poll.

Slideshow (16 Images)

The CENI has tried to reassure the opposition in regards to the voting machines by saying that solely print-outs from the machines counted by hand will probably be factored into the official outcomes.

But any disputed final result might result in a wider safety breakdown throughout Congo, significantly alongside its jap borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, the place dozens of armed militia are energetic.

The final polls shut at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT), though voting will proceed for these nonetheless in line. Voters are additionally selecting representatives for the nationwide and provincial assemblies.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Fiston Mahamba; Additional reporting by Baz Ratner, Sabiti Djaffar and Juliette Jabkhiro; Writing by Aaron Ross and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Helen Popper, Christopher Cushing and Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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