The delay of the final vote count is increasingly being seen by Congolese as a way for Joseph Kabila to ensure influence over the country, and it could trigger strong resistance by a population that is seeking change.
"The December elections do not seem credible or transparent … it’s a parody of an election." Denis Mukwege
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Denis Mukwege predicted that the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be a parody – and he was right. In spite of the tremendous patience and persistence demonstrated by the Congolese people, Congo's National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI in French), organised a chaotic, dysfunctional vote on Sunday, December 30th.
Voters experienced a wide range of challenges and deception, including but not limited to: voting booths missing from designated locations; polls not opening late; long lines; missing voting machines and accompanying materials; machines breaking down; missing electoral rolls; and a host of other obstacles.
Many people were not able to vote because their names were not on the electoral roll or agents closed the polls as people waited in line. Also, people in villages who had never before seen a touchscreen device had difficulties using electronic voting machines.
In spite of the range of hurdles faced by the people, they were determined to use the elections for change – and waited over two years to cast their ballot. The polls should have taken place in 2016 according to Congo's constitution. However, Congo's then-president, Joseph Kabila, refused to organise elections and pursued every conceivable way to hold on to power. Due in large part to the resistance of the Congolese people, he was forced to organise elections and name a successor instead of trying to run for an unconstitutional third term.
The deep desire for change was probably best exemplified in Beni, a city plagued by protracted violence and recently struck by the second largest Ebola outbreak in history. The CENI banned elections in Beni, along with two other locations, Butembo and Yumbi, due to insecurity and health risks from the Ebola virus.
Many observers saw this move on the part of the CENI as a political ploy to disenfranchise over 1.2 million voters from opposition strongholds. Nonetheless, on election day, the people in Beni organised their vote, complete with ballots, monitoring officials and tabulation. The self-initiated inclusion of thousands of voters in Beni occurred peacefully and orderly.
The people’s initiative exposed the CENI for its ill-conceived exclusion of these Congolese citizens. Examples of Congolese people's will and determination not only to cast a ballot but assure that their votes counted were legion throughout the country.
Voters refused to leave polling stations until results had came out. Although electoral observers were prevented from entering some polling stations by state security forces, people were highly engaged in assuring the integrity of the vote.
An organic citizens’ monitoring campaign could be observed throughout the country where citizens mobilised to protect their votes and assure that their votes were accurately recorded and reflected on the voting results sheets posted at the polling stations.
In spite of the chaos and the disorganisation orchestrated by the CENI, the day was largely peaceful. Some militia groups and state security forces in the east of the country interfered with the electoral process and four deaths were reported on election day.
Preliminary results have once again been delayed as only half the votes have been counted and election officials say it could be another week before a final count result is issued.
As the CENI counts the votes, the drama has shifted to the Kabila government, the three main political candidates and the election observers, particularly the two African entities that were permitted by the Congolese government to observe the elections: The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).
Both the AU and SADC gave Congo's Electoral Commission an overall positive grade on the elections. In their post-election statements, they both called on all parties to respect of the elections result.
Locally, both the Catholic Church, which dispatched 40,000 observers represented by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) and civil society, which sent 19,000 observers represented by the Coalition of Citizens Elections Observation Mission (SYMOCEL in French) reported their observations.
SYMOCEL said that for the most part, the elections went well in 80 percent of the country. They identified problems such as polling stations closing while people were waiting in line to vote, polls opening late, incomplete or missing voter lists, complications with voting machines, restrictions on access to the compilation centres for observers among other challenges.
CENCO's observations mirrored those of the SYMOCEL. However, CENCO went one step further and said that they already know the winner of the elections based on their observation reports and it is now up to the CENI to announce the real winner.
International media have reported that CENCO has shared the name of the winning candidate with Western diplomats and president Kabila. CENCO is prohibited by law from announcing the a winner until a victor is declared by the CENI. Nonetheless, both the CENI and Kabila’s political coalition the Common Front for the Congo (FCC in French) are furious at CENCO for claiming to know the winner and stating so publicly even if they did not release a name to the public.
Since the beginning of the electoral process, the central question was who would be declared the winner by the Electoral Commission. The question of votes and vote totals is a secondary question. Even a casual observer would acknowledge that the Congolese masses would in no way vote for continuity, which is what the Kabila regime's candidate, Emmanuel Shadary, represents. Voting for Shadary means continued insecurity, poverty, unemployment, repression and deprivation.
All eyes are now on the CENI, awaiting the announcement of the winner. In the meantime, the Kabila regime has shut down the Internet and launched a media offensive making arguments to the international media as to why Emmanuel Shadary is the apparent winner in their view.
Meanwhile, the Congolese masses are suffering from an Internet blackout without the capacity to freely communicate with each other and the outside world. A clear message has come through from the people, however; with or without Internet access, the announcement of a Shadary victory will trigger a ferocious resistance from the masses of the Congolese people with the intention of ridding themselves of the Kabila regime once and for all.
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