The United States called on Wednesday for credible and peaceful elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ahead of the start of campaigning for next month's key presidential vote.The central African nation will go to the polls on December 23 to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 18 years."The DRC has a historic opportunity to carry out a credible election leading to a peaceful, democratic transfer of power," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said."Credible and transparent elections will help alleviate the DRC's humanitarian and development challenges, improve the country's ability to attract investment, and reinforce stability across the DRC and the region."Hailing the countries' "deep and longstanding" relations, Nauert added that a legitimate election would spell a "positive new chapter" in their relationship."As the election campaigns begin on November 23, we encourage all actors to remain engaged in the process, conduct their activities in a peaceful manner, and commit to respecting human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democratic values," she said.The elections are critical for the future of the DRC, a sprawling, mineral-rich country that has never experienced a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.Kabila should have stepped down at the end of 2016 when he reached a two-term limit. But he stayed on thanks to a constitutional clause enabling the president to remain in office until an election is held, sparking protests that were bloodily repressed.* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTERFOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook.