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Zambian ex-leader to monitor DRC poll

2011-11-25 07:42

Washington - Former Zambian president Rupiah Banda has been tapped to lead a mission to observe Monday's presidential and parliamentary polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Carter Centre said its vice president for peace programmess John Stremlau would co-head the 70-person delegation representing 27 nations with Banda, who lost a re-election bid in September.

"The Carter Centre encourages the Independent National Election Commission to continue its efforts in the timely deployment of sensitive election materials prior to the opening of polls," Banda said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It is CENI's responsibility to ensure that the operation of the polls respects regional and international commitments. The challenges encountered in the distribution of election materials thus far also underscore the importance of establishing clear procedures for collecting and collating polling station results."

The polls are only the DRC's second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003, and the scars from those conflicts - together with the country's massive size - mean election officials face a raft of logistical headaches.

The election commission has set itself a Friday deadline to deliver 186 000 ballot boxes and more than 64 million ballot papers to nearly 64 000 polling stations, in a country of 2 345 000 square kilometres - 77 times the size of former colonial ruler Belgium.

During their mission, Banda and Stremlau will meet with CENI officials, political parties, independent candidates, civil society groups and representatives of the international community, as well as observe election day polling, counting and tabulation.

Noting that some election results may be disputed, The Carter Centre said it was "concerned about the lack of transparency in the Supreme Court's handling of complaints arising from the candidate nominations," and urged the high court to publish its decisions immediately after the complains period.

Long-term observers of the US-based centre have been deployed in the DRC since August, at CENI's invitation.

British communications firm Bell Pottinger Group said on Wednesday that former US president Jimmy Carter, who founded the center, had personally invited Banda to lead the delegation as "international recognition of the way president Banda handed over power" in Zambia's "peaceful and democratic" elections.

"Your experience, knowledge and political leadership would be invaluable to the mission," Carter was quoted as telling Banda.

Banda, meanwhile, pointed to his long political career and said "democracy in Africa is a precious commodity - we should treasure it".