Elections in DRC have been postponed by seven days – a ridiculously short time against the background of the country's many problems, says DW's Dirke Köpp.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) has now lost the last remnants of the trust it still enjoyed among the Congolese population.
With just four days to go, it announced a postponement of the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections originally scheduled for December 23. This is now the third delay. In fact, a new president should have been elected in 2016. But the government and the electoral commission (which is independent in name only) repeatedly came up with reasons why an election could not be held. Now there is a postponement of seven days. A ridiculously short period of time. But long enough to infuriate the opposition and civil society.
Announcing the latest delay, head of CENI Corneille Nangaa said it was due to a fire that broke out earlier this month in one of the commission's warehouses in the capital Kinshasa. The material destroyed, including 8,000 electronic voting machines, has not yet been completely replaced. On the day of the fire Nangaa had confidently declared that the flames would not stop the electoral process. Now, he has announced that the election has been postponed for seven days. Postponed, not stopped. It is linguistic hairsplitting like this which has severely damaged his credibility.
Admittedly, the commission's strategists are in an unenviable position. If they postpone the election for more than seven days, they risk a popular uprising. The Congolese have neither forgotten nor forgiven the previous delay. They speak of the 'sliding' (glissement) by President Joseph Kabila from his last term in office into the present regime. He should have stepped down as president two years ago on December 20, 2016. That was when his second and final mandate expired. For most Congolese, he is committing an illegal act by remaining at the helm since then.
Kabila and his government rejected all offers of help from outside for the elections: they said no to financial and logistical support as well as to election observers. As a result, preparations have not gone well, there are financial problems and election material was delivered either late or not at all.
Maybe, but only maybe, in the next seven days, ballot papers will finally reach their destinations. But in these seven days, the Ebola epidemic in the east will not be over, nor will the much feared militias have disappeared. If the commission had been serious, it would have postponed the election not by a few days but by several months. But, after the two previous postponements, this is not an option. Instead, it appears to be postponing the poll little by little, a strategy which also does not go down well with the majority of Congolese.
Perhaps the election really will take place next week. But nothing will have changed in the country and there is a high likelihood of violence. How can people vote in a free and fair manner in a country whose eastern region has been terrorised by militias for decades and in which there are countless areas where violence rules over democracy? President Kabila failed to resolve the conflicts when he was in power – for 17 years. The electoral commission cannnot make up for this by delaying the poll for seven days.