Congolese vote amid ‘chaos’, delays, conflict in eastWed, 20 Dec 2023 16:57:37 GMT

People in the Democratic Republic of Congo voted Wednesday in a high-stakes election pitting the incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi against a fragmented opposition, whose leaders denounced “chaos” and irregularities.The 60-year-old incumbent, wearing a blue-checked shirt, cast his vote in the capital Kinshasa, as crowds chanted their frenzied support. Tshisekedi has presided over years of economic growth but little job creation and soaring inflation, in the poverty-stricken but mineral-rich central African nation.Voting has been marred by administrative chaos and delays — confirming fears that the electoral commission was unprepared for the ballot in a country roughly the size of continental western Europe.”I arrived at 8:00 and I voted around 3:30,” engineer Roland Kengo, 44, said, leaving a Kinshasa voting station.”There was a lot of disorder at the opening, it was difficult… but it’s done, I’ve voted.”Voting materials were still being transported to polling booths after polls were supposed to have opened. “It’s total chaos, there’s no organisation,” blasted presidential candidate and former oil executive Martin Fayulu, 67.The other leading opposition candidates include gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, 68, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work with rape victims, and 58-year-old business magnate and ex-provincial governor Moise Katumbi. Both also complained of irregularities.Some voters arrived at polling stations to find their names missing from the electoral roll. In the eastern city of Goma, Irene Uwimana said she couldn’t vote for that reason. “We are led by incompetents that we won’t have voted for,” the irate 25-year-old said.The DRC is Africa’s top copper producer and the world’s largest producer of cobalt — a key component of batteries used in electronics and electric vehicles. But it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with little wealth trickling down.- Late votes -The electoral commission said on Wednesday that polling booths that opened late would remain open for the legally mandated 11 hours, giving people a chance to vote.In the afternoon, an influential election observer mission by a union of Congolese Catholic and Protestant churches indicated the scale of the problems. Nearly a third of polling booths in the country had not opened, the observers said, and about 45 percent of voting machines suffered technical problems.The government declared a bank holiday for Wednesday, and as in previous elections, has closed the borders and suspended domestic flights. Around 44 million Congolese — in a nation of 100 million — are registered to choose their president as well as lawmakers in national and provincial assemblies, and local councillors. More than 100,000 candidates are running for various positions.Results are not expected for several days.  – ‘Foreign candidates’ -Tshisekedi, who took office in 2019, faces 18 challengers and says he wants a second term to “consolidate his gains”.He is considered the front-runner in the single-round presidential vote, although his record, as he himself has acknowledged, is mixed.Opposition politicians have blamed him for the depreciation of the Congolese franc, which has driven up consumer costs. The government has blamed global inflation linked to the Ukraine conflict. And the president has promised to tackle the issue and create millions of new jobs.Over 60 percent of the population is under 20 years old. Throughout the campaign, Tshisekedi also poured scorn on what he termed “foreign candidates” — suggesting that his opponents have dual loyalties and lack the will to stand up to Rwanda, which the DRC accuses of funding rebel groups on its soil.Katumbi, who is a former governor of mineral-rich Katanga province and chairman of the country’s leading football club, Tout Puissant Mazembe, is the main target of such attacks. – Violence-wracked east -Armed conflict in eastern DRC overshadowed much of the electoral campaign.Militias have plagued the troubled region for decades, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s. Tensions have resumed since the M23 group, which is allegedly backed by Rwanda, began capturing swathes of territory in late 2021.Clashes with M23 fighters have subsided in recent weeks but the rebels continue to hold sway over large parts of North Kivu province. Citizens living in those areas will not be able to vote.”There’s the war, there’s a lack of jobs, young people are really being neglected, forgotten,” Desire Abedi Mubwana, 28, in Goma.”But we’re here to vote in the right leaders who will still think about young people and who will also think about the security of our region.”