Jury still out on DRC vote

2011-11-30 15:25

Vote observers called for patience today after opposition demands for the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC’s) elections to be annulled, saying it was too early to rule whether the vote was credible despite election day chaos.

Monday’s polls in the vast, restive central African nation were marred by violence and allegations of widespread irregularities and fraud targeted mainly at President Joseph Kabila.

Observers from the African Union called for restraint while votes are counted and the Carter Center said it needed more time to gather reports from around the vast central African country.

“We have seen incidents in many polling stations, as have other domestic and international observers,” said John Stremlau, vice-president of the organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter that monitors elections around the world.

He echoed concerns over undelivered ballots, long delays and voters being turned away from polling centres – reports that have raised tensions as the country awaits the announcement on December 6 of preliminary presidential results.

But he said the “complex and difficult situation” in the DRC – a country two-thirds the size of western Europe, with a crumbling and limited road network – meant it was too early to give a definitive report.

“The challenge for responsible observers is to look at the patterns and try to draw some general conclusions as to whether these are technical shortcomings that all elections have to different degrees or it reflects systematic fraud,” told a press conference.

He added that the elections “could be judged a credible undertaking” if the counting process is transparent.

“You’ll have to just give us time until the tabulations go further and we get more information from our people in the field,” said ex-Zambian president Rupiah Banda, the head of the mission.

The African Union for its part deplored “isolated acts of violence” on an election day in which at least 10 people died in apparent separatist attacks in the restive southeastern city of Lubumbashi.

But it said it was “delighted with the good conduct of the elections despite the challenges the country faces”, and appealed to political parties for “great restraint and a spirit of responsibility in accepting the result”.

In early assessments, international and domestic observers had raised serious concerns about the vote, saying they had received reports of ballot box stuffing and millions of voters turned away from polling centres.

But the major election monitoring groups took a more cautious stance today.

Four of the 10 challengers trying to unseat Kabila had called yesterday for the elections to be annulled, alleging fraud by Kabila and a host of flaws in the vote, including the exclusion of their monitors from polling stations.

Kabila’s main rival, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, did not join the annulment call, though his party today denounced “the fraud and violence that have characterised the process”.

The president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, defended the organisation of the polls yesterday, saying: “There’s nothing to make us annul these elections.

”The elections commission had faced criticism throughout the build-up to the polls for running chronically behind schedule as it struggled to overcome logistical challenges.

It had to bring in 81 planes and helicopters to get 64 million ballots to some 64 000 polling centres, and many still did not receive their election materials on time.

There were no reports of renewed violence today after Monday’s deadly unrest in Lubumbashi, the country’s second city and the capital of the mining province of Katanga.

Voting day there was rocked by apparent separatist attacks on an election vehicle convoy and a polling station, in which officials said seven or eight assailants, two policemen and a voter died.

The polling centre reopened yesterday, and voters had finished casting their ballots by today.  

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