After a two-year delay, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) election results have been postponed for another week – following election-day chaos, communication shutdowns and widespread fears of electoral fraud. Several international bodies, including the UN Human Rights Office (ONHCR), have warned that continuing delays may contribute to growing tensions and the potential for violence.
Results of the December 30th election were expected to be made public on January 6th, however the country’s electoral commission (CENI) has cited logistical challenges as causing delays in vote counting, with only 47 percent of ballots having been received from polling stations so far. The DRC’s vast size, combined with its under-developed road network, makes the manual collection and compiling of votes logistically problematic. While the CENI had intended to use an internet-based system for vote collection in order to avoid these issues, strong pressure from the opposition based on fears this system would be vulnerable to fraud derailed such plans.
While many had held hopes for this election being the first peaceful transfer of power since 1960, the delays have added to concerns regarding electoral fraud and the potential for violent counter-protests. Election Day itself saw “widespread irregularities, voter suppression and violence,” including the “last-minute closure of more than 1,000 polling stations,” inconsistencies in voter lists, and delays in opening of polling stations, according to Human Rights Watch. Furthermore, an estimated 1 million people in two opposition-stronghold cities were barred from voting due to concerns over an Ebola outbreak, with many residents protesting that they should have the right to counted votes. In an interview with the Guardian, Jacob Salamu, 24, argued “we do not have Ebola. Kabila is worse than Ebola.”
Since December 30th, the outgoing government has cut internet, SMS and several radio service across the country. This was ostensibly done to preserve public order by preventing “fictitious results” from circulating on social media, according to Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to Joseph Kabila. Opposition activists such as Olivier Kamitatu have warned that the media crackdown is in fact “a plan to obscure the truth of the ballot box” by restricting the public’s ability to circulate information which could be used to challenge the official count. He claimed, “It is very straightforward. They don’t want us to compile our own totals of votes.”
Offers of aid from western electoral bodies for the length of the election were denied by Kabila’s government. The Catholic Church, however, deployed more than 40,000 monitors to survey the election across the country, reporting that there was a clear winner apparent on the day of the election. The Church has cautioned the CENI against the announcement of untrue results, expressing worry over potential “uprising”. With many opposition parties already pledging to paralyse the DRC with systematic protests should a ‘fraudulent’ election result be made, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani warns that the “efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when results are announced”. Human Rights Watch surmises that the authorities should restore communications “immediately” in order to “ensure that the vote count is carried out in a credible, transparent manner.”