The election to pick the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) next president will not happen before early 2019, the electoral commission said on Wednesday, a delay that raises fresh security worries in the vast African nation.
Polls were due this year under a transitional deal aimed at avoiding fresh political bloodshed after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his second mandate ended in December. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said on Wednesday that it would need another 504 days to prepare for the vote after the completion of an electoral census, which is far from accomplished in the restive Kasai region.
The delay could be reduced "if we accept using voting machines and if we change the electoral law", a commission spokesman told AFP. The polls have been repeatedly pushed back and CENI said in July it would not be possible to hold a nationwide vote this year due to ongoing security issues, particularly in the Kasai area.
Activists in the natural resource-rich nation of some 70-million immediately called for resistance to the delay. "There can be no more waiting. To the Congolese people ... it’s now or never," pro-democracy group Lucha reacted on Twitter.
Following a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday, French Ambassador François Delattre called on Kinshasa to quickly release a full timetable for what he said must be "credible" elections. "The council expects a speedy publication of the electoral timetable and the implementation of the confidence-building measures. There is a consensus on this very important point," Delattre told reporters.
The Security Council called for elections to be organised this year in the DRC, in line with a political agreement struck in December between the government and opposition groups. Under the deal, Kabila was allowed to remain in office pending the elections, ruling in tandem with a transitional watchdog and a new premier, to be chosen within opposition ranks.
However, diplomats privately acknowledged that holding polls in the vast African country in the coming three months would not be possible due to logistical hurdles. Diplomats said they did not consider the latest statement from the electoral commission as a formal timetable, which they stressed must contain specific dates for the vote.
The head of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, Maman Sidikou, said on Wednesday that journalists, opposition supporters and activists in the country are the targets of intimidation and violence. "In this context of political uncertainty, the security situation has gotten worse in several regions," he said.
Kabila was first propelled into office after his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated in January 2001, during the Second Congo War. The young soldier won a first, elected five-year term in 2006 in a poll organised with the help of the large UN mission deployed in the country.
In his address to the UN in September, he said he was "most certainly moving towards credible, transparent and peaceful elections" and that a timetable would be announced "soon."