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HomenewsPolls open in DR Congo amid delays, logistics issues

Polls open in DR Congo amid delays, logistics issues

Voting has begun, after almost a three-hour delay, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) presidential election as authorities scrambled to finalise preparations in an election facing steep logistical and security challenges.

Some 44 million people — almost half the population — are expected to vote. But many, including several million displaced by conflict in the vast country’s east, could struggle to cast their ballots. The fighting has prevented 1.5 million people from registering to vote.

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In the eastern DRC, people said they were not finding their names on voting lists.

“The voters displayed on lists at the polling station are fewer than those who are lining up. I can’t find my name on the list and this could cause scuffles here because I also want to vote,” said Jules Kambale at a polling station in Goma.

Waiting for polls to open amid the delay, people grew agitated and began arguing, particularly in the capital.

Both outside observers and locals have warned of challenges that could affect the credibility of the vote in one of Africa’s largest nations and one whose mineral resources are increasingly crucial to the global economy.

On the eve of the vote, some polling officers in Kinshasa told The Associated Press journalists they were still waiting for materials. Thousands of stations, particularly in remote areas, might still not have what they need on Wednesday.

A key concern is that ink on voting cards has smudged, making many illegible. That means people could be turned away from polling stations. In addition, the voter registration list has not been properly audited.

“The organisation of the elections raises lots of doubt regarding the credibility, the transparency and the reliability of the results,” said Bienvenu Matumo, a member of LUCHA, a local rights group.

D-day

A candidate needs a majority of votes in the first round to win.

President Felix Tshisekedi seeks his second and final five-year term, running against about 20 other candidates. His main rival appeared to be Moise Katumbi, former governor of Katanga province and a millionaire businessman whose 2018 campaign was thwarted by the government of former President Joseph Kabila.

But the opposition remains fractured, making Tshisekedi the likely favourite.

The son of a late, popular opposition figure, he has spent much of his presidency trying to consolidate power over state institutions and working to overcome a crisis of legitimacy after a contested election five years ago.

Some voters did not want to disclose who they were backing, but Kinshasa is a Tshisekedi stronghold.

“He’s someone who’s done a lot of things for the country … he’s fought for democracy,” said business owner Joseph Tshibadi. Even though Tshisekedi has not succeeded in quelling violence in the east, Tshibadi is willing to give him more time.

“The beginning is always hard,” he said.

After waiting nearly three and a half hours, Tshibadi was the first person to vote at a school in the capital. He said voting was easy.

“I feel very happy, because I voted for my candidate, and I think he’s going to win with 90 percent [of votes],” he said.

Transparency concerns

DRC’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) says it has made changes in the process to make it more credible, spending more than $1bn on the vote since planning began two years ago. A key change from 2018 is that results from each of the 75,000 voting stations will be released one at a time, rather than being announced in bulk.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Denis Kadima, head of CENI, blamed most of the delays on late funding and challenges of traversing the country, which straddles two time zones and is Africa’s second-largest by landmass. But he also responded to critics and pointed fingers at unnamed politicians, saying, “The criticism that we get tends not to be always genuine.”

Locals and analysts said the vote likely will be extended past Wednesday, given the logistical challenges.

The results that should determine the winner should be the manual ones rather than the electronic count, said Rev Eric Nsenga, a coordinator for the joint electoral observation mission between the Church of Christ for Congo and the Congolese National Episcopal Conference. He also warned against publicly releasing partial results as they are compiled in case it inflames tensions.

Already, some observers have alleged that the process has been far from transparent.

On Monday, the East African Community said its election observer mission was not granted access to DRC by authorities. Last month, the European Union cancelled its observation mission after Congolese authorities did not authorise the use of satellite equipment for its deployment.

The vote is taking place as violence surges in eastern DRC, where more than 120 armed groups are fighting for power and resources or to protect their communities. They include the resurgence of M23 rebels, allegedly backed by neighbouring Rwanda, which denies it.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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