Tensions high in DR Congo six months ahead of voteTue, 20 Jun 2023 05:26:33 GMT

Key elections are looming in DR Congo, where political tensions combined with a security crisis and economic woes are creating a powerful and troubling brew.Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country votes on December 20 for the presidency, national legislature, provincial assemblies and local councils.The complex ballot will be a crucial test of stability in a sprawling nation whose 63 years of post-colonial history have been marked by coups and iron-fisted rule.Four opposition figures are already crying foul over the organisation of the vote, accusing President Felix Tshisekedi of a stitchup.They say a voter registration drive is flawed and the two bodies overseeing the vote are dominated by Tshisekedi supporters.Voter registration unfolded over three months among a population of some 100 million in a country the size of continental western Europe.But an external audit of the electoral roll lasted just five days — and registration was unable to take place in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, which has been in the grip of armed groups for years.”We have decided against submitting candidacies for every election level until the electoral roll is compiled again, in transparency,” Martin Fayulu told the press on Monday, speaking in the name of his own supporters and not of his allies.- ‘Explosive’ -Fayulu in April teamed up with fellow opposition figures Moise Katumbi, Matata Ponyo and Delly Sesanga.They declared they would “unite our ideas and strengths” and stage joint protest rallies.One of their marches, on May 20, was violently repressed, triggering protests from the influential Catholic Church and civil society, while more than a dozen countries called for peaceful, fair and inclusive elections.Alphonse Maindo, a professor of political science, said “sound elections” in December would be impossible, given the organisational problems.”The coming months are going to be explosive, with demonstrations, arrests, trials,” he warned.Elections in the DRC have a long and turbulent history.In January 2019, veteran opposition campaigner Tshisekedi succeeded Joseph Kabila, an authoritarian who voluntarily stepped down after 18 years at the helm.It was the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history.But it came at the cost of angry accusations, led by Fayulu, that the result was rigged.- Dilemma -Tresor Kibangula, a political analyst at the Ebuteli think tank, said it was becoming less likely that the 2023 elections would be postponed.The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which is organising the vote, has so far adhered to the deadlines imposed on it, he said.But, he said, trust in CENI and the Constitutional Court, which will rule on any objections to the vote, were greater concerns.”The government is wielding all the judicial levers,” another political commentator said, pointing to the composition of the two bodies.Kibangula said the opposition found itself in a dilemma, “continuing to demand guarantees of transparency, but at the same time it has to start preparing” for the vote.The runup to the December 30, 2018 presidential vote was similarly marked by accusations of organisational delays, bias and horse-trading between the candidates.Voting in three cities in violence-torn North Kivu province in eastern DRC, and in Mai-Ndombe province in the west, was postponed until March 2019.Tshisekedi was declared winner with 38 percent of the vote, ahead of Fayulu with 35 percent, although fewer than one voter in two bothered to cast their ballot.Observers fear turnout could be low this time, depressed by scepticism in the electoral process and the country’s political class, and worries about unemployment and inflation.