DR Congo presidential candidates in final push ahead of voteMon, 18 Dec 2023 18:07:41 GMT

Presidential candidates in DR Congo made their final pitches to voters on Monday as campaigning officially ended in the vast and impoverished central African nation of 100 million people.Forty-four million Congolese are registered to vote in Wednesday’s presidential, parliamentary, provincial and municipal elections, in a country ravaged by conflict in its east. The presidential race is a first-past-the-post vote, giving President Felix Tshisekedi, 60, who is seeking a second five-year term, a healthy chance of winning against a divided opposition. With two days to go, several presidential candidates have withdrawn from the race, leaving 18 in addition to the incumbent. Analysts say Moise Katumbi, a 58-year-old business magnate and former provincial governor, poses the strongest challenge to Tshisekedi.Katumbi, campaigning in the southeastern mining town of Kipushi, asked supporters to keep a close eye on the voting process, “even if it requires sleeping on the spot”. Among other leading opposition candidates is Martin Fayulu, 67, who says he was the true winner of the 2018 election that brought the president to power.Denis Mukwege, a 68-year-old gynaecologist who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of rape victims, is also running for the top job. Mukwege is well known and respected outside the Democratic Republic of Congo and has kept a low profile in recent days after a low-key campaign.On Monday, he appealed to voters to pick him “to say ‘no’ to the incessant descent into hell” of the DRC. He also shared his fears about the fairness of the vote. Tshisekedi is also due to hold a final rally in a working-class district of the capital, Kinshasa, on Monday.  Dieu-Merci Nsilulu, 31, who was waiting in the crowd of thousands, said the president needed a second mandate to continue building the country. “But that this time, he thinks of all parts of the population and not just those in cabinet,” Nsilulu said. All the candidates have made similar promises: more jobs, an end to conflict in the east and more infrastructure. The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its huge reserves of gold, cobalt, copper and coltan.It is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, crucial for making the batteries used in mobile phones and electric vehicles.However, more than two thirds of people survive on under $2.15, according to the World Bank. – Help from UN, Egypt -Rampant insecurity in the east has overshadowed much of the campaign.Armed groups have plagued the region for more than 30 years, a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and 2000s. One such group, the M23 — which is allegedly backed by Rwanda — has captured swathes of territory since launching a campaign in 2021.Voters in the areas of North Kivu province occupied by M23 fighters will not be able to vote on Wednesday.More than a million people have been displaced by armed confrontation, according to figures published at the end of November by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).There have been doubts about the ability of the Congolese electoral commission to organise the ballot on time — the DRC is roughly the size of continental western Europe and has very few roads. Last week, the government asked the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country to help it transport voting materials, after having long publicly criticised the force. The UN agreed on Friday. Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said on social media on Sunday that voters would be able to “elect their new leaders in peace and serenity”. In addition to UN support and Congolese military aircraft, two Egyptian army transport planes have been made available to the electoral commission, he added.  The election campaign has taken place in relative calm, a feat in a country whose first peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960 occurred in 2018.Human Rights Watch, nonetheless, warned over the weekend that election-related violence risked undermining the vote. The NGO said that since early October it had documented “clashes across the country between supporters of rival political parties that have resulted in assaults, sexual violence and at least one death”.Hate speech on the campaign trail has also sparked concern. UN peacekeeping force head Bintou Keita recently said on social media that hate speech leads to the “escalation of violence”.