Ahead of congo’s elections: several million voters too many?

Congo is scheduled to hold elections in December. Now criticism of voter registration confirms some opposition concerns.

Kabila election poster during the last elections in 2011. and 2018? Photo: reuters

As the official election date of Dec. 23, 2018, approaches in the Democratic Republic of Congo, doubts about a semi-regular ballot are growing more massive. In a rare joint statement late Tuesday, all Congolese opposition parties rejected the new electoral register completed by the electoral commission and demanded that the commission’s leadership be replaced.

There were "about 10 million presumed fictitious voters" on the voter lists, which include some 40 million names, the joint statement said. The fictitious voters would have to be deleted, and the distribution of seats in parliament would have to be revised accordingly. All this requires a new management of the electoral commission.

The sharp statement is prompted by the series of oddities that have accompanied the re-registration of all voters in the vast country. After the 2011 elections were held with an outdated electoral register and then falsified, the electoral commission had spent several years asking all adults in all 26 provinces of Congo to re-register.

The length of this technically complex procedure, which began in July 2016 and did not end until early this year, was one reason why the actual election date in November 2016 could not be held in time for the expiration of President Joseph Kabila’s second and last legal elected term. After all, anyone who would come of age by the end of 2018 at the latest was allowed to register. Meanwhile, Kabila continues to rule without new elections.

On 31. January, the electoral commission announced it was now done and had registered exactly 46,021,454 Congolese. After a review of its own work, that number shrank to 40,287,387 by April 6 – they had removed millions of duplicates and minors, the commission said.

Finally, the May 8 parliamentary redistricting was based on 40,371,439 registered voters.

Identity not verifiable

To counter criticism, the Election Commission invited experts from the International Francophonie (OIF) to conduct an audit. The final OIF report published last week added to the confusion. It only mentions 40,024,897 registered voters – and of these, almost half a million would not reach the age of 18 until after the planned election date and would therefore not be eligible to vote.

In the case of regular voters, the foreign experts pointed out shortcomings. For example, 16.6 percent of them – more than 6.6 million people – had been registered without fingerprints, making their identity impossible to prove. The possibilities of registering without papers, solely by authentication by witnesses, had also been loosened over time.

From all these points of criticism, the opposition now concludes that election commission chief Corneille Nangaa-a close confidant of the president-has created a gigantic potential for mobilizing fictitious voters in favor of the incumbent.

There is little doubt left in Congo that Kabila is seeking an unconstitutional third term as president. In recent weeks, more and more Kabila election posters have appeared in Congo.

The opposition is still considering whether to run with a common candidate – probably exiled ex-governor Moise Katumbi – or simply boycott. Both options presuppose a unanimity that Congo’s opposition has so far failed to display.

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