DR Congo election: Observers complain of irregularities

Image caption Voters had to use their mobile phone lights to find their names at some polling stations

Election observers and the opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo say Sunday’s presidential election was marred by widespread irregularities.

The Roman Catholic Church’s observer team said it had received more than 500 reports of malfunctioning voting machines.

The opposition accused the military of trying to coerce people to vote for the ruling’s party’s candidate.

President Joseph Kabila insisted the election was free and fair.

He is due to step down after 17 years in office, and has promised DR Congo’s first orderly transfer of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Counting is under way and provisional results are expected on 6 January.

Mr Kabila is backing his former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is the ruling’s party’s candidate.

The two main opposition candidates are Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Felix Tshisekedi, the son of the late veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. Image copyright Reuters Image caption Nearly 40 million people were eligible to vote in the election

What do observers say?

In its preliminary report on the poll, the 40,000-strong observer mission set up by the Catholic Church said there had been more than 100 cases of election monitors being denied access to polling stations.

It added that around 20% of polling stations opened late, and there were reports of polling stations being moved at the last minute.

About 40% of the population in DR Congo is Catholic, and Pope Francis had appealed for a peaceful vote.

What has been the opposition’s reaction?

Mr Fayulu warned that the irregularities would have a negative impact on the electoral process.

In a BBC interview, he also accused the military of “pushing” voters in some areas to cast their ballots for Mr Shadary.

An internal UN report said armed rebels in eastern Masisi attempted to intimidate people to vote for Mr Shadary, reports the BBC’s Louise Dewast from the capital, Kinshasa.

Mr Tshisekedi accused Mr Kabila’s government of creating a “mess” on election day in order to trigger legal challenges that would help the president remain in power.

“I deplore all the disorder that we hear about,” he said.

In a television appearance after voting ended, Mr Kabila praised the electorate for voting “in peace and dignity”, AFP news agency reports.

What’s the context for these elections?

Mr Kabila took over from his assassinated father Laurent in 2001, but he was 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.

The run-up to the poll was also hit by controversy over the exclusion of some 1.26 million out of an electorate of nearly 40 million from voting.

The electoral commission said voting could not take place in the eastern cities of Beni and Butembo because of a deadly Ebola outbreak in the region. Voting was also called off in the western city of Yumbi because of insecurity there.

In some areas in the east where the poll was cancelled, activists organised their own election, dubbed “citizen votes”.

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

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

What do we know about the candidates?

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

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