Sunday, December 30, 2018

DRC: Delays, storms mar start to Congo's presidential vote


KINSHASA (Reuters) - Voting in Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-anticipated presidential election got off to a shaky start on Sunday due to torrential rain in the capital, long delays at some polling stations and broken-down machines.

Kabila voted early in the morning in the capital Kinshasa at the same school as the candidate he is backing, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, whom the latest opinion polls showed 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, wearing a dark blue suit, told reporters.

In the eastern city of Goma, where the weather was clear, a Reuters witness saw residents casting their votes, but another polling station in the city was still closed 90 minutes after polls opened at 6 a.m (0400 GMT).

“The majority of voters here are stressed,” said Kayembe Mvita Dido, first in a line of dozens waiting at a polling station in the shadows of the towering Nyiragongo volcano.

“Some do not even know how to use the voting machine,” he said, referring to a new electronic voting system, criticized by the opposition as vulnerable to fraud.
Several machines broke down Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu, bringing voting in those polling stations to a halt, witnesses said. Some voters complained they could not find their names on the rolls.
Streets in Kinshasa were also flooded due to a violent storm that appeared to have knocked out the power in two polling stations visited by Reuters, although that should not affect the machines whose batteries are meant to be charged ahead of time.

Despite repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to take place in 2016, diplomats and poll observers have said authorities are ill-prepared, raising fears of a repeat of the violence that followed elections in 2006 and 2011.
Kabila’s agreement to stick to constitutional term limits should represent progress for the mineral-rich central African country.

Critics, however, say they doubt the vote will be untarnished by fraud, and that Kabila could continue to rule from the sidelines. He has not ruled out running again for president in 2023.

PROTESTS
Violent protests erupted this week after authorities announced that voting had been canceled in the Ebola-hit eastern cities of Beni and Butembo, their surrounding areas and the western city of Yumbi. Together, they account for more than 1.2 million out of 40 million voters nationwide.

In Beni, dozens of voters lined up on Sunday morning to write their choices on sheets of paper, but were dispersed by police who fired into the air, residents said.

Foreign diplomats told Reuters on Friday that only about 60 percent of voting materials across the country were in place, and election observers said polling stations in the capital Kinshasa would struggle to accommodate all voters during voting hours.

Opponents of Kabila say the government is trying to tip the election in favor of Shadary.

The most recent poll released by New York University’s Congo Research Group on Friday showed former Exxon Mobil manager and opposition lawmaker Martin Fayulu leading the race on 47 percent, buoyed by discontent with Kabila’s 18-year tenure.

Under Kabila, Congo has seen strong economic growth from surging copper and cobalt output but only meager improvements to average people’s quality of life.

Another opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, trailed in the poll with 24 percent, while Shadary got 19 percent.
“I will vote for Martin Fayulu,” said Mama Wivine, 40 and unemployed, as she waited for the machine to arrive 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.”

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

But Shadary has big institutional advantages, including round-the-clock coverage on state media. Kabila appointees also dominate national institutions.

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

The national electoral commission (CENI) has tried to reassure the opposition about the voting machines by saying that only print-outs from the machines counted by hand will be factored into the official results.

But any disputed outcome could lead to a wider security breakdown across Congo, particularly along its eastern borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, where dozens of armed militia are active.
The last polls close at 5 p.m., although voting will continue for those still in line. Voters are also choosing representatives for the national and provincial assemblies.

No comments:

Post a Comment