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Congolese opposition slams decision to delay elections

Electoral commission chief Corneille Nangaa announces the week-long delay to elections, Kinshasa, 20 December 2018.
Electoral commission chief Corneille Nangaa announces the week-long delay to elections, Kinshasa, 20 December 2018. Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner

Several members of the Congolese opposition have criticised the electoral commission for delaying long-awaited presidential elections by a week. The DRC's election body said it was necessary to push the polls back after voting materials were destroyed in a warehouse fire last week.

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“More than two years after the expiration of the constitutional deadline, no delay is justifiable,” said the opposition Lamuka coalition, headed by presidential candidate Martin Fayulu. “In effect, the electoral commission and the illegitimate government of [President Joseph] Kabila have had ample time to prepare good, credible, peaceful elections,” a joint statement added.

Jean-Pierre Bemba, president of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo party and one of the leaders of the Lamuka coalition, went further and questioned the nature of the fire itself and whether it did in fact destroy the electronic voting machines, as announced by the electoral commission.

“There’s no proof that there were machines in this warehouse, no photos or images have been shown displaying burnt out electronic voting machines,” Bemba told RFI. “We absolutely don’t believe that the voting machines were burnt. I think it was an excuse,” he said, adding that they had “information about exactly what happened”.

Smoke rises from the electoral commission's warehouse in Kinshasa, 13 December 2018.
Smoke rises from the electoral commission's warehouse in Kinshasa, 13 December 2018. Photo: John Wessels/AFP

The announcement of the delay just three days ahead of the expected vote on 23 December has raised a number of questions among the political class.

Samy Badibanga, a presidential candidate and former prime minister, felt that candidates should have been consulted. “I ask myself if we can still call this institution a ‘national independent electoral commission’,” he said. “It’s becoming a ‘national dictatorial electoral commission’.”

“I would like to put my faith in the electoral commission, but for this you must have discussions and evaluate the situation together before taking a decision,” he said in a telephone interview with RFI’s Service Afrique.

The only woman contesting the polls, independent candidate Marie-Josée Ifoku Mputu, said she was not surprised by the delay and urged that the electoral commission be disbanded. Delay or no delay, we already have political chaos she said, “Mr Nangaa must be fired,” she added, referring to Corneille Nangaa, the electoral commission chief.

Civil society group Lucha said they opposed further delays to the polls. “It’s unbearable, it’s too much,” said Stéphie Mukinzi, a member of the activist movement.

“If over two years Kabila hasn’t succeeded in organising elections, do you think it’ll be possible in one week? It’s an insult to our people,” he said. “That’s why we’re asking our people not to accept this delay.”

Kabila supporters defend electoral commission

Despite the concerns raised by members of the opposition, the government has expressed its support for the electoral commission.

“This decision is regrettable, but understandable,” said Néhémie Mwilanya, director of President Kabila’s office and coordinator of the platform that supports Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the candidate of the “presidential majority”.

Supporters of Kabila’s People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy said the independence of the electoral commission must be respected. “It’s the church in the middle of the village,” 34-year-old PPRD supporter Jeannot told RFI in Kinshasa. “We must follow what the electoral commission tells us.”

“Let’s be Congolese who are fighting for our country to develop,” said 35-year-old electrician Yannick, who does not want to see the delay create any trouble. “Congolese must be proud and show they are the pioneers in the peaceful transfer of power in Africa.”

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