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Congo votes in extended election as some opposition demand rerun

DEMOCRATIC Republic of Congo held a second day of voting in a chaotic and in some areas violent general election – an unscheduled extension that some opposition candidates and observers say could open the results up to legal challenge.

The presidential and legislative elections across Africa’s second-largest country were derailed on Wednesday by delays in delivering election kits and malfunctioning equipment. People also struggled to find their names on registers, while violent incidents disrupted the poll in other places.

The administration of President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second term, dismissed criticism of the vote and concerns about its credibility.

“We have had inclusive, peaceful, and transparent elections,” said Giscard Kusema of the presidency’s press team.

The vice president of the CENI election commission said the electoral process was running much more smoothly on Thursday than the previous day and that provisional results would start to be released from Friday.

Opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi, whose team has been compiling its vote count, said results so far showed him in the lead. He claimed in a joint statement with opposition backers that also alleged widespread irregularities in the conduct of the vote.

The CENI’s decision to extend voting into Thursday at polling stations that failed to open on election day has been rejected by five other presidential candidates. They are jointly calling for a full rerun of the vote.

READ:  Congo election body says it will meet deadline for presidential results

Congo’s powerful Roman Catholic church and the Symocel observer mission, which both deployed thousands of election monitors, have also questioned the move.

“The extension … could indeed disrupt the (electoral) process, especially from a legal standpoint,” Symocel coordinator Luc Lutala told reporters.

At stake is not just the legitimacy of the next administration.

Congolese election disputes often spark violent unrest with potentially far-reaching consequences. Congo is the world’s third-largest copper producer, and the top producer of cobalt, a battery component vital to the green transition.

At a polling station in a school in the capital Kinshasa, Reuters reporters saw vote counting underway in one classroom on Thursday, while crowds of people jostled outside another classroom as they waited to vote, some shouting in exasperation.

Among those waiting was voter Gracio Lumeza, who said this election was the messiest he’d seen. “We don’t understand, I don’t know what they (the CENI) are doing … We are really disappointed.”

In the restive eastern Beni territory, overnight vote counting at one centre was abandoned when rebels attacked the polling station and election agents fled, local authorities told Reuters.

ELECTORAL ‘SHIPWRECK’

For months before the election, the CENI promised it could overcome the steep security and logistical challenges to deliver a free and fair vote as scheduled.

But on Wednesday, CENI’s president Denis Kadima acknowledged that many polling stations had opened late and some not at all.

He said that around 70% of voters had been able to vote and that the extension would not affect the credibility of the process.

The group of five opposition candidates, who include top challengers Martin Fayulu and Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege, say the commission has no constitutional or legal right to extend the vote.

Late on Wednesday, they jointly demanded “the reorganisation of these failed elections by a differently structured CENI” and at a date agreed upon by all stakeholders.

Congo’s former ruling coalition, the Common Front for Congo of former President Joseph Kabila, called the elections a parody that had brought shame on the country.

“What we witnessed today was a genuine shipwreck of the electoral process,” the coalition said in a statement. It asked its members to stand by for further instructions on actions to be taken.

The tumult of election day followed a campaign marred by political violence and repeated warnings from the opposition and observers about a lack of transparency. Their concerns included issues with the voter list and illegible ID cards.

In the eastern territory of Kabare, 21-year-old Jean Claude Irenge Kalumuna was among the first residents to cast his vote early on Thursday.

“It makes me happy because yesterday I left here angry,” Kalumuna said. “I condemn this way of operating by the CENI with all this disorder, which proves that they were not ready.”

The CENI has rejected allegations of mismanagement and fraud.

By The African Mirror

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