Fraud and chaos reported in DRC polls

2011-11-29 12:51

Kinshasa – Monitors reported widespread fraud and chaos in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) elections as votes were counted after a campaign and polling day marred by deadly violence.

Raising concerns about the integrity of the vote, domestic and international election observers cited reports of undelivered ballot papers, ballot box stuffing and millions of voters turned away from polling stations.

“The irregularities are so widespread it will be difficult for anyone to ignore (them) and say they had no impact on the integrity of the vote,” said Pascal Kambale, country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Preliminary results in the presidential race, which pitted incumbent Joseph Kabila against a divided opposition field of 10 candidates, are not expected until December 6, leaving the country with a tense week of waiting after a chaotic election day on which at least 10 people died.

Kambale said millions of voters were turned away countrywide, being told they were at the wrong polling station.

“A more worrying sign of a probable rigging attempt were a number of already-filled-up ballot papers that were discovered by people across the country,” he said of reports from a network of some 5 000 observers sponsored by his non-profit foundation.

Election monitoring groups were still working on their official reports, but other observers reported similar problems.

Jerome Bonso, coordinator of the Coalition for Transparent and Peaceful Elections, a Congolese grouping, said the vote had been blemished by “attempts at fraud and manipulation”, people being turned away from polling stations and attempted ballot box stuffing.

“It’s an explosive atmosphere,” he told AFP. “We risk having a very critical period of tensions.”

A UN source reported discoveries of premarked ballots, and the US expressed concern about what it described as voting “anomalies”.

Ballot counting began after polling stations closed at 5pm yesterday, and went ahead through the night – often by lantern in a country with a limited electric grid – continuing today in many places.

The Independent National Electoral Commission has said voting would continue today to give all the country’s 32 million registered voters a chance to cast ballots, but did not give details or say where the extension would apply.

Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, is tipped to win a new five-year term thanks largely to opposition divisions, after parliament changed the constitution in January to scrap two-round elections in favour of a single-round, first-past-the-post system.

His main rival is veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

The political environment remained explosive today after the previous day’s bloodshed.

In the worst incident, gunmen opened fire on a polling station in the centre of southeastern Lubumbashi in an apparent separatist attack.

They killed two policemen at point blank range and a woman hit by a stray bullet.

In a separate attack, gunmen in Lubumbashi – the country’s second-largest city and a flashpoint of clashes during the campaign – launched a predawn raid on a convoy of jeeps carrying election materials.

Officials said seven or eight attackers were later killed by military and police.

An ex-member of a separatist movement fighting for independence of the southeastern province, Katanga, claimed the attack for the group.

In the central town of Kananga, meanwhile, a Tshisekedi stronghold, voters upset over voting delays and allegations of fraud torched a string of polling stations, stole ballots and blocked a truck from delivering election materials, a UN source said.

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