Voting chaos and pockets of violence mar DRC elections
Missing ballot papers and problems with voter lists kicked off the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential elections on Monday, with scattered pockets of violence throughout the country. RFI visited polling stations in Kinshasa, where frustrations ran high.
Q&A: Dominique Struye, Belgium’s Ambassador to DRC
Q&A: John Stremlau, Election Observer, Carter Center
“My voter card says here, College Saint Raphael, I went to vote, I was told I couldn’t. I went to two other polling stations, unfortunately I still haven’t managed to vote,” said a 32-year-old voter who wanted to remain anonymous.
One polling station in the commune of Limete had significant numbers of people unable to cast their vote because they were not on the voter list.
The electoral commission had previously announced a change in the voting rules. Allowing those not on the voter list to vote if the polling station was listed on their card. However, it seems this change was not communicated to some polling station staff.
Belgium’s Ambassador to the DRC, Dominique Struye, was present at the College Saint Raphael polling station. He admitted that there were a “few” problems but said they were due to previous work that had been done to remove duplicate voter records from the register.
“Globally, the impression is rather positive, voting bureaus are open. Of course the rain has made it a bit difficult at a certain stage this morning. But slowly the procedures are going well,” said the Belgian diplomat.
Unfortunately some voters paid the ultimate price in other parts of the country. In Lubumbashi, Katanga province, three people including two policemen were killed when gunmen attacked a post office.
In Kananga, Kasai-Occidental province stuffed ballot boxes were burnt by an angry mob. While in Fizi, South Kivu polling stations were closed in the afternoon because ballot boxes were already full.
The two cities of Bandundu Tembo and Banzi did not receive electoral materials on Monday morning because the plane which was delivering them ran out of fuel.
Back in Kinshasa an angry crowd at the Ecole de la Gare polling station on Avenue Lokele in Gombe argued that attempts to remove unused ballots were suspicious.
“The unused ones – we cannot let them take them elsewhere,” a voter told RFI. “Unused ballots must be burnt here in front of everybody,” he added.
Electoral commission officials said they had wanted to send them to another site that had run out of ballots.
One observer from the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region observation mission commented that the electoral commission had said they would keep a stock of around 10 per cent of required ballots for emergency situations and shortages. But in this case it seems these had already been used.
Another international observer laid the blame on the tight timetable.
“This was to be expected because of the rush to get this election done,” said John Stremlau, from the Carter Center. “The price will be that there are going to be disgruntled voters who didn’t get the chance to vote on time,” he added.
In Kinshasa, incumbent president Joseph Kabila’s main challenger Etienne Tshisekedi had problems casting his vote after his polling station had run out of ballots for the presidential race. Kabila had no such problems and posted his vote calmly in a downtown area of the capital.