Thousands protest in DR Congo to demand neutral poll body

Demonstrations were sparked by concerns over the independence of the electoral commission.

Opposition leader Martin Fayulu addressed a crowd of supporters [File: Justin Makangara/Reuters]

Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have fired tear gas as governing party members attempted to stop tens of thousands from marching to seek a neutral election commission.

About 10,000 opposition demonstrators marched through the streets of Kinshasa on Saturday and tore down a statue of President Felix Tshisekedi.

They were met by members of the governing Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party who tried to stop the march by hurling petrol bombs, witnesses told Reuters news agency.

Police fired tear gas to disperse them and let the demonstration continue.

The protests were sparked by the proposal from six religious groups to install Denis Kadima as head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

Religious groups, which are mandated by the constitution to nominate the leadership of the CENI by consensus, had been at loggerheads for months and failed to reach an agreement.

Kadima’s nomination was met with anger as he is seen as corrupt and with close ties to Tshisekedi.

Political analysts and diplomats have criticised CENI for its role in the disputed 2018 vote, where Tshisekedi emerged as president.

Opposition leader Martin Fayulu and Tshisekedi had formed an electoral pact in the run-up to the 2018 election, but Tshisekedi eventually split off to form another political group before the vote.

CENI declared Tshisekedi the winner, while Fayulu, who said he had won a landslide victory, came second.

Fayulu was among the leaders of the protest on Saturday, together with former Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito.

Tshisekedi is expected to seek a second term when Congolese voters return to the polls in 2023, with CENI likely to play a pivotal role again.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies