It stands to reason that elections within a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe have the potential to be slightly chaotic even in the best of circumstances. The confusion in the presidential and parliamentary elections taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are most certainly not taking place under the best of circumstances. Among many others, the United Nations Security Council will be watching the process, results, and aftermath of the voting throughout the DRC with great interest.
Due to glaring logistical concerns and sometimes violent rhetoric on the campaign trail, it was predicted by many that the elections would be postponed until a later date. Instead, the CENI, the Congolese electoral commission, decreed that polls were to open all day across the country. Whether all citizens entitled to cast their vote were able is a different matter:
Masked gunmen attacked a polling station in the southern mining province of Katanga before three of them were killed by security forces, and locals burnt down three polling stations in the neighbouring opposition heartland of West Kasai.
Many voters trekked between polling stations, confused over where they were meant to cast their ballots, and scuffles broke out over shortages of voting materials and allegations of fraud.
“I voted. I left at 7 in the morning. I have been to five schools,” said Bercam Nzangi, a Kinshasa resident. “I was able to do this but what about those mammas who can’t read and write or don’t have transport. This is organised chaos.”
Dr. Laura Seay, professor at Morehouse College and author of the Texas in Africa blog, has been rounding up news all day on her Twitter feed. The overall picture painted is one of mass confusion that could have been prevented with previous logistical planning, along with the aforementioned violence against polling stations, mostly in opposition territory, and calls of potential fraud. Already a polling president has been arrested for having ballots in his personal residence the previous evening.
Congolese voters were further hindered by the sheer number of candidates, transforming the ballot in Kinshasa from a piece of paper into the size of a newspaper; in Tshangu, 1,500 candidates are running for 15 seats. Adding to the din are rumors circulating of voting being extended until tomorrow, with the CENI searching for a solution for those that did not vote or were disrupted from voting today. High hopes were placed on these elections, following the success of the internationally-backed balloting in 2006; to say that this current round are not proceeding as smoothly as planned would be an understatement.
The odds are high that the likely top two vote-getters, incumbent Joseph Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, will claim fraud in the event of a loss. The next few days after the election concludes, including the announcement of the results, are crucial in determining whether an explosion of violence is imminent.