Polls to open in tense DR Congo election

Polls to open in tense DR Congo election

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Media captionWhat you need to know about the election

Sunday’s vote for a new president in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been hit by a series of delays that have left people frustrated.

The failure of new electronic voting machines in some polling stations is one of the challenges.

Close to 40 million people are eligible to vote for a successor to President Joseph Kabila – in power since 2001.

The poll is expected to bring the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

The election should have taken place two years ago but was repeatedly postponed because of logistical problems, officials said.

  • Why do voters mistrust electronic voting?
  • Five things to know about DRC

The run-up to the poll has been hit by violence and controversy over the decision to exclude some 1.26 million from voting.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption Queues have formed nationwide, including here at Sake in North Kivu

Voting began at 05:00 (04:00 GMT) and ends at 17:00, but people still in the queue at that time will be allowed to vote.

Things started slowly in the capital, Kinshasa, because of heavy rain, reports the BBC’s Louise Dewast.

There have been delays in a number of areas because of problems with the electronic voting machines, which are being used for the first time.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption Voters make a choice on a touch-screen computer and the ballot paper is then printed

There was frustration in Limete, a district of Kinshasa, as the electoral register had not been delivered and people were unable to vote.

Those waiting then booed the head of the electoral commission (Ceni), Corneille Nangaa, who had come to the scene.

What’s the context for these elections?

The current president took over from his assassinated father Laurent in 2001, but he is barred from running for another term under the constitution.

He was supposed to step down two years ago, but the election was postponed after the electoral commission said it needed more time to register voters.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption President Joseph Kabila is stepping down after 17 years in power

The decision triggered violent clashes, as the opposition accused Mr Kabila of trying to cling on to power.

Then last week, the election was delayed again, for seven days, because of problems deploying voting materials to polling sites.

This all came after thousands of electronic voting machines – being used for the first time – were destroyed in a fire in Kinshasa.

Speaking at a polling station, the president tried to address concerns about the voting, saying: “It’s clear that the elections are free and fair.”

Calm despite delays

Louise Dewast, BBC News, Kinshasa

Image copyright Reuters

The heavy morning rain inundated many of the capital’s dirt roads and meant things started slowly.

I visited a polling centre in one district, Kitambo, and the mood was generally calm despite one of the 12 electronic voting machines not working and several people struggling to find their names on the electoral register.

In Kingabwa, another area of the capital, an election monitor told the BBC that when polling stations opened there, voters were frustrated due to voting machines not working, power cuts and the electoral register not being displayed.

A local observer group (Cenco) said in its first assessment of the day that just over one in six of the polling centres it visited across the country did not open on time.

Who’s running for president?

Image copyright AFP/Reuters

Image caption Opposition candidates Martin Fayulu (L) and Felix Tshisekedi (R) face Emmanuel Shadary (C), the former interior minister

There are 21 candidates, but three frontrunners:

  • Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister and Kabila loyalist, who was hit by European Union sanctions for his role in the violent suppression of opposition protests in 2017
  • Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who has promised “a dignified and prosperous Congo”, but who poor Congolese feel may not advance their cause
  • Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the son of a late veteran opposition leader who has promised to make the fight against poverty his priority

Regional observers will be keeping a close eye on voting, but European and US observers, who had concluded previous elections in the country had lacked credibility, have not been invited.

What are voters saying?

Fidele Imani voted in Kinshasa and told the BBC: “We have been waiting for two years and I’m happy to vote today. We want change here, we need peace and security and people need more employment opportunities.”

This voter in the city told the BBC: “We come to vote. I don’t know if my voice will count or not. I really don’t know, but I will always come and vote.”

Image copyright Reuters

Francois Balumwege, also voted in the capital: “I feel liberated I am happy, I completed my civic duty, I have just voted in an election which is, for us today, very historic. Because it will allow the Congolese to see one president hand over power to another president.”

‘Citizen votes’

This week, voting in three districts was postponed until March, with the electoral commission blaming insecurity and an Ebola virus outbreak.

About 1.26 million people are not able to vote on Sunday as a result.

The decision in effect cancelled their votes, as the new president is due to be sworn in by mid-January regardless.

A crowd attacked an Ebola clinic in the east of the country after the announcement.

But some activists in places where polling has been cancelled have organised their own election, dubbed “citizen votes”, the BBC’s Gaius Kowene reports from the main eastern city of Goma.

Image copyright AFP

Image caption Activists used materials from a previous election to set up their own vote

They are using ballot boxes from the 2011 elections and printed their own voting papers.

“We want to show the Ceni that if they fail to organise elections here because of Ebola, we can do it,” organiser Katembo Malikidogo told the BBC.

More on the key presidential hopefuls

  • The ex-oil tycoon
  • Kabila’s ‘hardline’ choice
  • The man trying to outdo his father

What is the significance of DR Congo?

The vast central African state is rich in mineral resources and is the world’s leading producer of cobalt, used to power mobile phones and electric cars.

However, it has high levels of poverty, bad infrastructure, and a political and business elite accused of enriching itself at the expense of the poor.

It has also been at the centre of what some observers call “Africa’s world war”, between 1997 and 2003.

The conflict claimed up to six million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.

More on DRC

  • Congo – a river journey
  • Why do voters mistrust electronic voting?
  • Why football stars have Congo on their mind

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