Delays mark tense DR Congo election

Voting in three cities delayed by electoral commission until March 2019 over Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.

Kinshasa, DRC – An armed militia overrun several polling stations in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as millions voted to elect a new president.

Mai Mai fighters attacked voting stations in six townships in Lubero town in North Kivu province, forcing voters to cast ballots for a candidate of their choice, a local government official told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, in South Kivu, a police officer and a civilian were killed following allegations of voter fraud at a polling station in Walungu.

Voting started slowly on Sunday due to heavy rains but long queues marked the later part of the polling day.

In the capital, Kinshasa, there were long delays at several polling stations due to lack of voting machines.

The electoral body had said on Wednesday 20 percent of the polling stations in Kinshasa would not open due to the lack of voting machines after a fire destroyed one of its main warehouses in the city.

The city is home to about 15 percent of the Central African country’s registered electorates.

In Bumbu municipality in Kinshasa, only 10 out of the 12 polling stations were opened for voting, leaving many voters frustrated. Dozens of other voters could not find their names on the voting register.

“I have looked through all the lists and my name is not appearing on any of them. I’m very disappointed as I wanted to cast my vote for the candidate who will change things here. I wonder why are they complicating things. I need to vote but now I’m not allowed to,” Nicoles Manebo, a 50-year-old nurse, told Al Jazeera.

Analysts said more should have been done to prepare voters to use the machines which have been deployed for the first time in the country.

“Many voters have never seen such a tool before they went into the polling booth. It was a big problem for many voters I saw today. This will, of course, affect their voting experience in one way or another,” Gode Kadima, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

More than 46 million Congolese registered to take part in the election which has been repeatedly delayed since 2016.

As many as 21 candidates are competing to succeed Kabila, who came to power following the assassination of his father in 2001.

Meanwhile, voting did not take place in three opposition strongholds with at least 1.2 million registered voters.

The electoral commission (CENI), earlier this week, said it was delaying voting in the eastern cities of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu until March next year because of the ongoing Ebola outbreak which has claimed more than 330 lives.

CENI also said voting will take place in March next year in Yumbi in the western Bandundu province because of ethnic violence. More than 100 people have been killed in the area since the start of this month.

On Sunday, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Goma, North Kivu province headquarters, unhappy with the postponement of the vote in the two cities.

Meanwhile, the powerful Catholic Church said 846 polling stations have been put up in “prohibited places” such as police and military posts.

The church, which sent more than 40,000 observers across the country, said voting machine in 544 out of the 12,300 voting places it monitored were not functioning.

DRC, a mineral-rich country of 80 million people in central Africa home to more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt, has never had a peaceful transfer of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Voters are also electing representatives for the national and provincial assemblies.

Preliminary results are expected on January 6, while the official results of the presidential polls will be announced on January 15.

Source: Al Jazeera