GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo – In Goma, the main city in the east of DR Congo, voters began arriving at polling stations on foot and motorcycle taxis before sunrise.
The city, located in a region where many areas are still controlled by armed groups, has been flagged as a possible election hotspot.
Many residents of Goma and North Kivu province, where 90 per cent backed incumbent President Jospeh Kabila in 2006, say he has failed to improve the city, damaged extensively by war, a volcanic eruption and armed groups, and say it is time for a new authority to continue the work that Kabila began.
“The war had ended and we voted for him to get rid of these armed groups, but they are still here and it’s time to look for an alternative,” a mobile phone shop owner told Al Jazeera.
“It’s time for us to move up a level and Kabila had a chance to deliver, but did not,” he added.
Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the start of the voting had been “very slow and very chaotic.
“Quite a few offices are missing materials. People are patiently waiting, but it’s unclear how long they will be willing to wait,” she said.
Etienne Senga, 25, who said he had arrived early “to beat the crowds”, said he hoped for peace and security and was voting for economic opportunity.
Mapendo Furaha, 24, told Al Jazeera that she intended to “vote for a new president” to replace Kabila.
“In 2006 [the last elections] I was hoping for peace and development,” she said. “We have at least gained peace but the development didn’t not happen … Perhaps this time round it will”.
But Kabila is widely expected to secure re-election as a consequence of his opponents’ failure to rally around a single candidate.
While Etienne Tshisekedi, a veteran opposition politician, has emerged as the main challenger elsewhere in the country, many in the east see Vital Kamerhe, Kabila’s former ally, as a more attractive alternative.
Crucially, Kamerhe is from the region, but is also perceived as a leader who might finally rid the eastern DRC of Rwandan rebels still operating in the forests.
Still, Goma is teeming with Kabila posters, billboards and handouts. His larger than life campaign dwarfs the mostly A2 size posters of opposition leaders and legislative candidates which hang awkwardly from nearby walls.
The main danger in this election, analysts suggest, is that documented fraudulent behaviour, perceived flaws in the electoral process and the logistical challenges of staging the vote, could bring the results into disrepute and possibly trigger further violence.
Pascal Kambua, a political analyst with Open Society Southern Africa, told Al Jazeera from Kinshasa that “even if you have all the helicopters in the world, you can’t cover all the areas in a number of days”.
He added that there were a number of unanswered questions about bogus polling stations after allegations emerged of polling stations that did not exist. Other issues included missing names from voter rolls and reports of equipment yet to be delivered to electoral offices in some of the most remote areas.
Election officials in Goma were still racing to make the final preparations less than hour before polling stations were scheduled to open, an official from the SADC observer mission told Al Jazeera on Monday.
“They are only setting up the classrooms now, and trying to create the necessary conditions for voting to take place,” the unnamed official said.
Fraud allegations raised ahead of the polls
Yet despite rumours of electoral fraud, including missing names from voter rolls, fake polling centres and reports of equipment yet to be delivered to electoral offices in some of the most remote areas, Cyrille Mibona, an organiser from the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), told Al Jazeera that the country was ready.
He said reported bogus polling stations had been tracked down and wiped from the database of some 60,000 nationwide.
Torrential rains across the east had also posed a challenge, he said, but added: “We are prepared”.
“Everything is in place for the elections, though we are investigating a few complaints in some districts to see if they have any merit,” said Mibona.
On the eve of the vote, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the head of the election commission, also expressed confidence in its ability to stage credible and peaceful elections and called on voters to turn out in force.
“Everyone’s going to vote tomorrow, it’s going to be a celebration of democracy. The Congolese people are going to take the second step in the consolidation of their democracy. We have kept our promise,” said Mulunda.