A marathon vote count got underway on Monday in the Democratic Republic of Congo, central Africa’s unstable giant, for presidential elections scarred by political turmoil and haunted by memories of violence.
A day after a relatively peaceful vote, election officials began the task of counting and collating ballots in a climate of deep suspicion about fraud.
The first verbal shots were fired over alleged interference and the opposition accused the authorities of cutting off the internet to thwart activism.
DR Congo has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, and bloodshed marred previous elections in 2006 and 2011.
Worries of a new spiral into violence deepened two years ago after President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, refused to quit when his two-term limit expired.
But Sunday’s vote – delayed three times since 2016 – was “relatively calm,” the influential Catholic church’s national conference of bishops declared.
In the worst incident, four people were killed late on Sunday when violence erupted at a polling station in the Walungu area of South Kivu province.
An electoral official was accused of trying to rig the vote in favour of President Kabila’s preferred successor, said opposition figure Vital Kamerhe.
In the days before Congo’s elections, President Joseph Kabila’s forces have brazenly attacked and killed peaceful opposition supporters. He must resign.
By Denis Mukwege Dec 21,2018
Mr. Mukwege, a doctor and activist from Congo, won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Peace.Supporters of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party demonstrated outside the party headquarters in Kinshasa on Thursday to protest against the postponement of elections.
This article has been updated to reflect news developments.
BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Congo is sliding toward chaos as outgoing President Joseph Kabila has failed to keep his promise to organize free, transparent and fair elections, which were scheduled to be held on Dec. 23.
On Thursday the country’s electoral commission postponed the much-delayed vote by a week, claiming it was “technically incapable” of holding the elections. These elections, if held successfully, would have been the first peaceful transfer of power since Congo’s independence in 1960.
Even though the country’s Constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms, Mr. Kabila has stayed in office since the end of his second term in 2016, lamely citing conflict and unpreparedness for elections as his excuses. With great reluctance and after substantial outside pressure, Mr. Kabila agreed not to run again.
His ruling coalition, Common Front for Congo, nominated Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister entirely beholden to Mr. Kabila, as the presidential candidate in the elections. On Dec. 11, the European Union renewed sanctions — travel ban and asset freezes — against Mr. Shadary, who was sanctioned last year for carrying out a crackdown on people protesting the much-delayed elections.
Mr. Shadary is competing, among others, with two leading presidential candidates from opposition parties. One of the front-runners is Martin Fayulu, an oil executive turned politician, who has long been a fiery critic of Mr. Kabila. Mr. Fayulu was nominated as a consensus presidential candidate by several opposition parties in November.
The opposition unity frayed when Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, son of the opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party in 1982, began his own presidential campaign.
Yet when the government has permitted opposition rallies, the opposition candidates have been greeted by huge, boisterous crowds in cities across Congo, showing the broad and deep dissatisfaction with Mr. Kabila’s rule and the desire for genuine change.
But Mr. Kabila is now waging war against his own people, and government forces have brazenly attacked and killed peaceful opposition supporters. On Dec. 11, security forces in Lubumbashi, the second-largest city in Congo, tried to prevent a rally by Mr. Fayulu, the opposition presidential candidate, firing tear gas and live bullets at his supporters, killing five people and injuring many more.