DR Congo polls kick-off despite delayed start

A man is seen next to a sign pointing to polling station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Voting got off to a delayed start in the Democratic Republic of Congo after heavy rains caused delays in the setup of polling stations.

Staff from the National Electoral Commission (CENI) were setting up voting machines in the capital Kinshasa, just minutes before voting was due to start on Sunday.

DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila is due to step down after the vote, more than 17 years after coming to power following his father’s assassination in 2001.

21 candidates are vying for the top post, with the front-runners thought to be former interior minister Emmanuel Shadary, and opposition leaders Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi.

A witness told Reuters that residents were casting their vote in the eastern city of Goma, but another polling station in the city was still seen to be closed 90 minutes after polls opened.

“The majority of voters here are stressed,” said Kayembe Mvita Dido, first in a line of dozens waiting to vote at a polling station in the shadows of the towering Nyiragongo volcano.

“Some do not even know how to use the voting machine,” he said, referring to a new electronic voting system, criticized by the opposition as vulnerable to fraud.

Early voters in the capital faced a violent storm that appeared to have knocked out the power in two polling stations visited by Reuters. Another station was not able to open on time due to a lack of electoral witnesses.

Despite repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to take place in 2016, diplomats and poll observers have said authorities are ill-prepared, raising fears of a repeat of the violence that followed elections in 2006 and 2011.

Violent protests erupted this week after authorities announced that three opposition strongholds, accounting for more than 1.2 million out of 40 million voters nationwide, would not be able to vote due to health risks from an on-going Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.

At one polling station in the Ebola-hit city of Beni, dozens of voters nevertheless lined up to write their choices on sheets of paper, even though the vote had been cancelled, according to local civil society leader Teddy Kataliko.

Foreign diplomats told Reuters on Friday that only about 60 percent of voting materials across the country were in place, and election observers said polling stations in the capital Kinshasa would struggle to accommodate all voters during voting hours.

The last polls close at 1700 local time, although voting will continue for those still in line.