Delays, storms mar start to Congo's presidential vote

Other News Materials 30 December 2018 14:45 (UTC +04:00)

Voting in Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-anticipated presidential election got off to a shaky start on Sunday due to torrential rain in the capital, long delays at some polling stations and broken-down machines, Reuters reports.

Three opposition strongholds will see no casting of ballots at all after the authorities canceled the vote there, citing health risks from an ongoing Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.

President Joseph Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is due to step down after the vote in the first democratic transition for a country plagued by authoritarian rule, coups and civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kabila voted early in the morning in the capital Kinshasa at the same school as the candidate he is backing, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, whom the latest opinion polls showed trailing two opposition candidates.

“My only concern is that we have this very heavy rain and probably voter turnout might be low, but hopefully the skies will clear, and the voters will turn out in numbers,” Kabila, wearing a dark blue suit, told reporters.

In the eastern city of Goma, where the weather was clear, a Reuters witness saw residents casting their votes, but another polling station in the city was still closed 90 minutes after polls opened at 6 a.m (0400 GMT).

“The majority of voters here are stressed,” said Kayembe Mvita Dido, first in a line of dozens waiting at a polling station in the shadows of the towering Nyiragongo volcano.

“Some do not even know how to use the voting machine,” he said, referring to a new electronic voting system, criticized by the opposition as vulnerable to fraud.

Several machines broke down Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu, bringing voting in those polling stations to a halt, witnesses said. Some voters complained they could not find their names on the rolls.

Streets in Kinshasa were also flooded due to a violent storm that appeared to have knocked out the power in two polling stations visited by Reuters, although that should not affect the machines whose batteries are meant to be charged ahead of time.

Despite repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to take place in 2016, diplomats and poll observers have said authorities are ill-prepared, raising fears of a repeat of the violence that followed elections in 2006 and 2011.

Kabila’s agreement to stick to constitutional term limits should represent progress for the mineral-rich central African country.

Critics, however, say they doubt the vote will be untarnished by fraud, and that Kabila could continue to rule from the sidelines. He has not ruled out running again for president in 2023.