15 November 2011

Congo-Kinshasa: Elections Organisers Struggle to Keep With Schedule

Kinshasa — The president of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, has declared that: "Come rain or shine, the elections will take place according to schedule". However, successive delays have cast doubts in the minds of voters.

Approximately 64 million ballot papers need to make their way to the remote areas of Africa's third largest country. After a long and anxious wait, the first 13 tons of ballot papers were finally delivered in Kinshasa, on 9 November 2011.

"The ballot papers are here," reassured Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, with optimism. But this first batch of ballot papers, which was printed in South Africa, is only for the Bas-Congo and Bandundu provinces. "Seven more batches are on their way as we speak. All ballot papers should be here by 15 November, for both presidential and legislative elections".

Logistical challenges

In the CENI's revised calendar, the ballot papers were to be printed and distributed across the Congolese territory, between 18 September to 25 November 2011, in preparation for the legislative and presidential elections. It is quite obvious that the Congolese electoral body is facing major logistical challenges.

The first batch of 90,000 out of a total of 186,000 ballot boxes was scheduled to arrive from China on 23 October 2011. But the shipment arrived more than a week later. The ballot boxes are to be dispatched in no less than 62,000 voting stations across the country.

Moreover, a total of 62,000 observers are also expected in various voting stations across the country, a mammoth task.

Issues of impartiality

As a result, there are rising questions and doubts regarding the organisation and, more importantly, the peaceful conclusion of elections in this resource-rich African country. The repression of opposition parties' manifestations, the incitement to violence, the arbitrary arrest of opposition figures, the pressuring of journalists, and the emergence of what appears to be youth militias; all this in a climate of impunity.

These abuses, which are blamed on the government by opposition parties, have raised doubts on the impartiality of the CENI.

"The CENI is weak and is not respected by the various candidates. It did not enforce certain important dispositions of the electoral code", says an editor of a Kinshasa daily newspaper, accusing the CENI of partiality. "For example, the electoral body should have disqualified government officials who applied for candidacy in the legislative elections without resigning from office. But it did not. One of the presidential candidates already had his posts all over Kinshasa long before the official launch of the electoral campaign. And the CENI was quiet. Such partiality is of the reasons behind the violence".

Rain or shine

Other cases of mismanagement by the CENI have weakened the status of electoral body in the eyes of many Congolese citizens. One recalls the violation of Article 22 of the electoral code by the ruling party of President Joseph Kabila, whose candidates exceeded the number parliamentary seats available for a given locality in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. Yet, the article clearly states that a list presented by a political party, a political group or an independent candidate will not be accepted if the number of candidates is greater than the number of seats available for a given locality.

In total, there are approximately 20,000 parliamentary candidates for only 500 available seats.

Meanwhile, while the Congolese population and other observers are growing increasingly concerned about the smooth progress of the elections, the CENI remains persistent on holding the elections on November 28, come rain or shine.

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