DR Congo goes to the polls


Democratic Republic of Congo goes to the polls this week in elections which could see the country emerge from 17 years of conflict-ridden rule under current President Joseph Kabila.

Twenty-one candidates are running to replace Kabila, whose hand-picked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is one of the front-runners.

The mineral-rich country has never known a peaceful transition of power since it attained its independence from Belgium in 1960.

Approximately more than 40 million voters are expected to cast their ballots on Sunday to choose a Kabila’s successor.

Due to growing international concern about the risk of violence, the United States on Friday ordered its non-essential staff to leave its embassy in the capital Kinshasa.

The electoral campaign period had been mostly peaceful, however at least six people were killed last week in clashes at two opposition rallies, with police getting the blame for much of the violence.

In a joint statement last week, the embassies of the United States, Canada, Britain and Switzerland in Kinshasa said they were deeply concerned by the loss of life.

The aftermath of 2006 and 2011 polls which were both won by Kabila resulted in bloodshed.

The election is long overdue as Kabila should have stepped down as president at the end of 2016 when he reached his two-term limit.

But he stayed on thanks to a constitutional clause enabling him to remain in office until a poll is held, sparking protests that were bloodily repressed.

Both the United States and European Union have issued sanctions, citing human rights violations, against top Congolese officials.

The election will use controversial voting terminals, a source of huge contention over the past year which many opposition figures have denounced as “cheating machines” that could be manipulated to fix the vote.

The terminals include a touch screen for voters to click on their preferred candidate. The authorities insist the terminals are meant to cut costs, prevent fraud and provide a faster tally of votes across the vast nation.

But a fire at a warehouse in Kinshasa last Wednesday destroyed most of the election materials for the city, including voting terminals, leading to doubts over whether the election could go even ahead.

Nearly 8,000 of some 10,000 voting terminals for Kinshasa were destroyed, according to CENI, the Independent National Election Commission.

The two main opposition candidates, Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu, have suggested the government could have been behind the fire as an attempt to delay the election.

Officials from CENI on Sunday said the army and police repelled an attack by a rebel group on a warehouse with voting machines in the troubled eastern Beni province.

Authorities insist the vote will go ahead as initially planned.


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