Massive delays and violence in Congo Elections – Polls extended to make queued people vote

On the 28th of November 2011, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced its second democratic elections after 2006. In the following, I will try to give some cautious assessment of what has happened during that day, amended by some background information.

While four years ago, the electoral process has been marked by a rivalry between incumbent President Joseph Kabila and his concurrent Jean-Pierre Bemba. This time, Kabila is challenged by long-time opposition runner Etienne Tshisekedi, former ally Vital Kamerhe, and several other candidates. While 2006 has seen two polling rounds, this time a constitutional amendment by Joseph Kabila assures elections with only one round. In addition to Presidential elections, Congolese have to elect their new parliament: 19 000 candidates are contesting for only 500 seats. This has led to massive difficulties in the forefront of the electoral process. Concomitant violence during the campaigns has added to the yet tense political and administrative environment in which those elections were set to happen. This article shall first and foremost give an impression on how the elections have turned out to happen throughout the country with some general aspects and a little more detailed account of seminal events in the single provinces. For any broader information on the situation before the elections I wish to refer to several mass media spotlights, like offered by AJEBBC, France24Jeune Afrique or RFI. For a very interesting guess on probable poll results and the politico-electoral climate, I advise to have a look at Jason Stearns’ exit poll attempt  or my much less informed guess a while ago. The following information has been gathered throughout the day from different sources, mainly Radio Okapi, the independent electoral commission CENI, and various Congolese eyewitnesses. Due to the large number of people who were not able to vote until 6 pm, many polling stations shall remain open into the nights, says independent electoral commission CENI. Many incidents of ballot stuffing, rigged documents, and violent outbreaks have been reported, especially in the Kasai provinces and Katanga. The Kivus remained relatively calm, like DRC’s capital Kinshasa too. This overview includes all relevant events up to 10 pm of the election day.

General observations:

  • Most polling stations seem to be opened around 6 am and receiving large numbers of voters. Nevertheless many provinces have been experiencing large delays. Up to 6 pm most of the polling stations have closed and the counting of votes has commenced. It remains unclear up to now, whether all delayed and queued polling stations will remain open until everybody was able to vote. It also remains unclear, whether the polling stations were ballots have been missing and registers have been incomplete or modified will remain open or re-open for a later polling session. According to CENI and Radio Okapi, the majority of polling stations was closed, with some remaining open until every person was able to cast his/her vote. Those information though, cannot be verified, similar to quite a lot of other information that follows below.
  • A lot of polling stations are missing international or national observers. Excluding wide parts of the Kivu provinces, Kinshasa, and Bas-Congo – most polling bureaus are mainly observed by CENI agents and party representatives.
  • In front of several polling stations there are long queues due to the long ballots (over 19 000 candidates for parliament). This has led to chaotic situations in many parts of the country and to local breakout of violence.
  • Many citizens have been denied their right to vote as their names were deleted from CENI lists or have not even been there. Members of the CENI in the field have allegedly disinformed voters according to several sources. The CENI denies those accusations and has publicly called upon its agents to obey the procedures.
  • The whole electoral process is highly chaotic and confusing. In most provinces, the information network is quite poor. This is likely to cause uprisings and contestation as soon as the results will be proclaimed.

Provincial and regional specifics:

  • Especially in Katanga, violence has shattered the elections. Fraudulent practises, false ballots and ballot boxes have provoked massive outbreaks of popular disgust. Many polling stations and vehicles carrying ballots have been burned and shooting was reported from several of the province’s cities, notably Lubumbashi where many polling stations were opened only in the afternoon. The attempts of ballot rigging are increasing throughout the day.
  • In Kinshasa, the electoral process has been rather quiet. Still there are many problems with regards to the electoral lists, where lots of people are either missing of have been deleted. This has provoked numerous minor confrontations at the polling stations. The anger developed in that context is under control but might break out even stronger according to the results. The number of observers is comparably high against other provinces. Violence is likely to break out though, if the organisational incidents continue to increase and information about violence in other provinces reaches the capital. In several parts of the city, the presidential ballots have not arrived until closure of the polling stations. Later in the evening, UDPS supporters had several minor clashes with security forces.
  • In Bandundu, cases of ballot stuffing have also been reported, though there is no information on the consequences in terms of the electorate’s reaction.
  • In Kasai Occidental, there have been massive delays in opening the polling stations, especially in Kananga. Like in Katanga there have been uprisings in consequence to alleged rigging and fraud. Dozens of polling stations have been burned and several officials are reported to be killed. Other incidents were also reported from Tshikapa.
  • In Kasai Oriental, there were major delays as well. Armed groups have in sequence captured and destroyed several polling stations and a church in Mbuji-Mayi. They discovered pre-filled ballot boxes while the anger increased. In many other parts ballot papers did not include candidate n° 11, Tshisekedi, according to the CENI this was an “organisational problem”. Voters turned angry in consequence.
  • In Bas-Congo, elections have stayed rather quiet, though small delays and irregularities in the voting register and the finding of fixed ballots happened in several places. Like in Kinshasa, there were many observers in that province.
  • In Equateur, the delays have been extreme with lots of polling stations only opening around 4 pm, while violence has broken out in several cities and attacks on polling stations are reported.
  • In Orientale, irregularities remained few. While in Bunia the process has been calm, there many delays in rural areas, though without signs of major violence.
  • In North Kivu’s capital Goma elections have taken place without very much violence, although irregularities have been reported from several polling stations. Shootings have been recorded causing several wounded. Outside Goma, different polling stations have been assaulted be armed groups, such as Mai-Mai groups and a FARDC battalion. The Mai-Mai have destroyed a polling stations while the government soldiers (former CNDP rebels) have filled all ballots by themselves in one station near Masisi. In Beni, over 400 detainees have escaped prison before noon and killed several policemen.
  • In South Kivu, no major irregularities have been observed up to now. Especially in Bukavu, the elections are observed by many internationals and remained calm until the polling stations were closed shortly after 5 pm. In rural areas, media report several cases of delays, some polling stations not opening at all due to rebel interference, and missing ballots. According to Jason Stearns there have been ethnically structured clashes between Kamerhe and Kabila supporters.
  • In Maniema some minor rigging has been observed, while the general climate stayed rather calm.
As soon as any major developments are changing the current patterns I will try to give a further update on the still relatively quiet but volatile and potentially explosive situation. Please note, that this report is based on sources which I can only partly verify by double-checking different sources against each other and compare media reports to witnesses opinions, as I am currently not staying in the DRC.

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