DR Congo elections: Polls open as insecurity fears persist

Source: BBC

Some 44 million people have the chance on Wednesday to pick the next president of the Democratic Republic of Congo from a field of 19 candidates.

On the face of it, the numbers suggest a thriving democracy.

But insecurity in parts of the country, coupled with logistical challenges, tell another story.

DR Congo sits on vast reserves of cobalt, currently a vital part of many lithium batteries, seen as essential to a future free of fossil fuels.

The success of this election could go some way towards enhancing stability in the country and ensure that the metal is extracted in a safe way that benefits the Congolese people.

President Félix Tshisekedi is asking the electorate to give him a second term. But among those who want to get in his way are wealthy mining magnate Moïse Katumbi and former oil executive Martin Fayulu, who believes that he won the last election in 2018, the result of which was questioned by several international observers.

But the peaceful transfer of power, the first in the country’s history, following that poll became a source of optimism that the country had turned a corner.

As before, in this election there is only one round of voting and the winner will be the candidate with the most votes. The large number of challengers to Mr Tshisekedi could work to his advantage, as it may divide opposition support.

Voters are also choosing parliamentary, provincial and municipal representatives – with about 100,000 candidates in total – in this huge country, which stretches some 2,000km (1,400 miles) west to east. 

In order to help get voting materials to the more than 175,000 polling booths, the electoral commission has enlisted the help of UN peacekeepers.

In the east, insecurity has dominated the run-up to the polls.

Dozens of armed groups have been competing to control parts of the region. 

Voting suspended

The presence of a UN peacekeeping force, an East African regional force and Congolese soldiers has not quelled the violence, which has resulted in about seven million people being forced from their homes. Many of those have not been able to register to vote, in what some criticised as a chaotic registration process.

There are some places where voting will not take place at all because of rebel activity.

The perennial insecurity in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu has been a major campaign issue, with presidential candidates making lofty promises to end it.

Political violence in the run-up to the polls has also been a source of concern.

On the eve of the vote, the European Union said it was worried about “the hate speech, violence and incidents that have marked the last few days”. There have been some deadly incidents, causing Mr Katumbi to briefly suspend his campaign.

Polls opened at 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT in Goma; 05:00 GMT in Kinshasa) and voting is due to continue for 11 hours. The electoral commission is expected to announce provisional results on 31 December.

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