A vote in Democratic Republic of Congo will proceed as scheduled in December despite an armed conflict that’s limited registration in the east and ongoing intimidation of electoral advisers, the country’s top elections official said.
(Bloomberg) — A vote in Democratic Republic of Congo will proceed as scheduled in December despite an armed conflict that’s limited registration in the east and ongoing intimidation of electoral advisers, the country’s top elections official said.
Denis Kadima vowed to avoid a repeat of the last cycle, when hundreds died protesting what became a two-year delay and many questioned the outcome.
“Holding elections on time, it’s already very important,” he said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York on Thusday. “But holding elections of better quality, for me, it’s crucial.”
The Dec. 20 vote will be Congo’s fourth since the end of a series of wars that left millions dead. President Felix Tshisekedi is seeking a second term against a number of notable rivals, including a former prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Read More: Nobel Peace Prize Winner Joins Congo Presidential Candidate List
Foreign observers and the country’s powerful Catholic church have questioned the credibility of prior elections in the world’s biggest producer of cobalt and other clean-energy minerals. In 2018, leaked results from the Independent National Electoral Commission, or CENI, suggested that Tshisekedi didn’t actually win the vote. Soon afterward the US government sanctioned the top two officials of that panel for alleged corruption and undermining democracy.
Everyone is of the opinion that 2011 and 2018 elections “were very poorly run,” and many Congolese were “traumatized” by the process, Kadima said. “If people don’t believe that they can win through the ballot, they will go back to the bullet.”
The electoral chief and his colleagues have complained of intimidation and pressure. In one instance, Congo’s intelligence agency summoned several of his advisers and questioned one for five hours. The harassment appears to have stopped since a complaint was made to Tshisekedi.
“It’s part of the past practices where the electoral commission had to toe the line,” Kadima said. “I’m not toeing the line.”
Tshisekedi’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kadima, 62, is from the same region as Tshisekedi and speaks the same language, which has raised questions about partiality.
Before taking the job, he spent nearly 20 years as executive director of the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, where he worked on more than 100 elections around the world. He said he first met Tshisekedi in 2015 at a workshop he facilitated for Congolese politicians, after which they went their separate ways.
“There’s really no relationship besides the fact we came from the same area,” Kadima said.
Kadima admitted that there have been embarrassing hiccups in the lead-up to the vote, including that some election cards have faded so badly that they became illegible. He blamed that on a faulty chemical process that’s been fixed by a subcontractor of Miru Systems Co. Ltd., the South Korean company responsible for the registration and voting machine contract. CENI will soon offer replacement cards.
Miru officials weren’t immediately able respond to an email and calls outside of normal business hours.
The commission stands ready to register as many as 1.5 million potential voters isolated by a rebellion in the North Kivu province, a process that should take about two weeks if officials can get access, Kadima said.
Read More: Stalled Rebel Peace Process Threatens Congo Elections Buildup
While Kadima couldn’t estimate how long the vote count will take, he committed to a presidential inauguration in January.
- Kadima oversees a $1.1 billion budget and 3,000 full-time workers to cover Africa’s second-largest country by landmass.
- Nearly 500,000 people will staff the polling stations.
- About 23,000 candidates have registered to run for seats in the National Assembly, up from 15,000 in 2018.
- Thirty-three election workers have already died doing voter registration through accidents like drownings or in armed encounters.
- Congo will hold local elections for the first time, a process that will begin in the provincial capitals and spread throughout the country next year.
–With assistance from Shinhye Kang.
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