Wednesday’s general elections continue on Thursday in the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to logistical problems which prevented the opening of some polling stations and, according to the opposition, transformed the vote into “total chaos”.
The outgoing president, Félix Tshisekedi, 60, is seeking a second five-year term at the head of the vast Central African country with a turbulent and often violent political history, a subsoil immensely rich in minerals but a majority population poor.
More than 44 million voters, out of a total of around 100 million inhabitants, were called to elect their president on Wednesday, but also their national and provincial deputies, as well as their local councilors.
More than 100,000 candidates were in the running for the four ballots, including 19 for the presidential election, a single round election for which the opposition was unable to find a common candidate.
A year ago, the electoral commission (Céni) established a calendar setting the elections for December 20. The government has since affirmed its determination that the vote be organized on the scheduled date, while many Congolese considered one of these “slippages” (postponements) to which they are accustomed to being inevitable.
The deadlines were met, but logistical difficulties imposed themselves on the Céni.
Many polling stations opened late. Others, having not received their electoral materials, did not open at all. Anger spread to the queues and some violence broke out, with electoral agents molested and voting centers ransacked, according to witnesses.
In the evening, the electoral commission had to face the facts: the vote took place, but not completely.
“The offices which have not opened at all will do so on Thursday,” announced the president of the Ceni, Denis Kadima.
This official did not specify the number of offices concerned. According to him, “no less than 70%” according to a “rapid” estimate were able to vote on Wednesday.
Five opposition presidential candidates demanded “the reorganization of these failed elections, by a Céni differently composed”.
In a press release, the government could only recognize “the delay observed in the opening of certain polling stations”. But he congratulated the Congolese people for their “mobilization” and the CENI for its “determination” to organize elections on time which, according to him, went “generally” well.
Among Félix Tshisekedi’s opponents are Moïse Katumbi, former governor of the mining region of Katanga (southeast), Martin Fauyulu, who claims that the outgoing president stole his victory in the 2018 election, and Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with women victims of war rape.
After voting on Wednesday, everyone denounced the “irregularities” which, in addition to the dysfunctions, according to them marked the elections. They call on their activists to closely monitor the counting and display of results, another episode in the electoral process which promises to be high tension.
“I have already voted, but I am waiting for the count to make sure that my presidential candidate has indeed won. If I have to wait until tomorrow, I will do it,” assured in the evening a 43-year-old man who only wanted to introduce himself under the name “Michoux”, sitting in the grass near a polling station in Kinshasa.
The campaign was also poisoned by the security situation in the east of the country, which has been experiencing a peak of tension for two years with the resurgence of the M23 rebellion, supported by Rwanda.
Some opposition candidates have been accused of being “foreigners”, a formidable weapon to discredit them in a country scarred by years of conflict.