DRC tallies votes

2011-12-01 15:19

Kinshasa - More than three days after polls were supposed to close, some people on Thursday still were casting their votes in Congo's election, and sacks of ballots were being transported to vote compilation centres.

The scene was one of chaos at one of the warehouses in this Central African capital where trucks were arriving with ballots. Mountains of bags were piled up in the parking lot, as election officials rushed to cover them with tarps.

Some of the bags had burst and ballot sheets were flying in the wind, while others had fallen in the grass and in the mud and were being stepped on by poll workers.

"We're overwhelmed," said a poll worker, sitting among the piled up bags, trying to fill in a sheet recording the incoming votes.

"The last polling stations are closing today," said National Independent Electoral Commission spokesperson Matthieu Mpita on Thursday. "The country is enormous. There have been some small problems."

In Africa, it's difficult to pull off a transparent election even in countries that hold them regularly. This is only the third one in Congo's 51-year history, and 2% of its roads are paved.

Polling stations are located on the flanks of mountains inhabited by gorillas, and on the banks of rivers where the only mode of transport is by canoe. In some cases, they are on islands in the middle of lakes, or deep in rain forests controlled by rebel armies.

The government missed nearly every deadline leading up to the election that began on Monday. It didn't print enough ballots. Those that were printed weren't delivered in time, forcing hundreds of polling stations to open late on Election Day. Some didn't open at all, a combustible mix in a country whose back-to-back wars dragged in at least nine neighbouring nations.

International observers say they noted irregularities in numerous polling stations, but it's too early to say if the anomalies are part of a larger pattern that could change the outcome of the results. Three of the 11 candidates running for president signed a letter calling for the vote to be annulled.

"My guess is that when the evaluation is finally done it will show a lot of shortcomings," said John Stremlau, who is heading the 70-member observation mission from the Carter Centre.

 "But if we can get a credible counting process - and that is a big If - then from what we saw yesterday my impression is that the people of this country will figure out a way to get their voices heard."