Violence, late ballots could mar critical Congo vote

2011-11-29 07:27

Kinshasa, Congo – Voting materials arrived late or sometimes not at all in precincts throughout the country, but Congo’s elections went ahead, raising doubts about the legitimacy of a poll that already has seen at least nine people killed and could drag sub-Saharan Africa’s largest nation back into conflict.

Country experts and opposition leaders had urged the government to delay yesterday’s vote due to massive logistical problems. Some districts of Congo, which has suffered decades of dictatorship and two civil wars, are so remote that ballot boxes had to be transported across muddy trails on the heads of porters, and by dugout canoe across churning rivers.

There are fears that the Central African nation, whose rain forests are still inhabited by rebel armies, could be plunged into violence again if it is unable to agree on the results of the presidential and legislative election.

Violence over the weekend left at least four people dead, and it continued yesterday when gunmen opened fire on a truck transporting ballots in the southeastern town of Lubumbashi. That and a subsequent attack by unidentified assailants left five more dead, according to Dikanga Kazadi, the provincial interior minister. In the capital, police fired tear gas to break up a crowd that had amassed outside a voting bureau.

In pockets throughout the country, voting centres were forced to open late, and some didn’t open at all as they waited for trucks ferrying the necessary forms and equipment.

The vote is the second since the end of Congo’s last war and the first to be organised by the government instead of the international community.

There were delays at every step in the preparation. The ballots were only printed in South Africa two weeks ago – not enough time to deliver them to the remote corners of a nation the size of Western Europe where less than 2% of the roads are paved.

Late yesterday, election commission spokesperson Matthieu Mpita announced that polling stations that had not yet received the necessary materials would be allowed to stay open until they did.

The government is in a hurry to hold the vote because incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s term expires in the first week of December. If a new president is not elected by then, analysts say the country could slide into a situation of unconstitutional power – a scenario that could provoke further unrest.

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