DRC polls grip Africa

Some 25,6 million Congolese men and women will cast their ballots at more than 52 000 polling stations scattered across this vast central African country.

Although geographically located in central Africa, the DRC belongs to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has already dispatched a team to observe the conduct of the elections.

The first democratic elections in more than 45 years, today’s polls have attracted the interest of major powers, international organisations as well as a captive media eager to capture history in the making.

In what could be one of the biggest elections ever organised in the SADC region, more than 9 700 candidates from over 200 political parties will contest for the 500 seats in parliament while some 33 presidential candidates will seek a ticket to State House.

About 4 000 national and 1 500 international observers are already in the country to monitor the process. More than 70 international journalists are already on the ground to cover the elections.

“The size of political parties and the number of presidential and parliamentary candidates reflect the aspirations to democracy,” noted Namibia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marco Hausiku, the current chairperson of SADC’s Inter-State Politics and Diplomacy Committee (ISPDC).

The ISPDC is an arm of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation whose main objective is to promote peace and security in southern Africa. It is currently chaired by Namibia.

Hausiku said there is need to ensure that the high expectations of the Congolese are safeguarded through a peaceful electoral process.

John Pandeni, Namibia’s Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development, is leading the SADC Electoral Observer Mission to the DRC.

The DRC’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has assured the world that all logistical requirements for the elections were in place ahead of voting.

IEC chairperson, Apollinaire Malu Malu has confirmed that voting materials, including ballot papers, have been received and are ready for use.

Most of the logistical requirements necessary for the holding of successful elections were provided by South Africa, which contributed material for printing the ballot papers and assisted in the distribution of voting papers to 14 hubs across the country.

South Africa has also assisted with about 300 technicians who helped in setting up information technology requirements.

Together with United Nations peacekeepers, South African defence forces have been operating in the DRC for some time now to ensure peace and stability in that country. Several members of the SA Police Service (SAPS) have also been deployed there.

The DRC polls will be the fourth to be conducted using the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections ‘ a regional instrument for assessing democratic elections.

The SADC electoral guidelines are a non-legally binding electoral tool that was approved by Heads of State and Government at the regional body’s summit in Mauritius, in 2004.

Under the guidelines, SADC member states have agreed to guarantee the full participation of all their

citizens in their country’s political processes.

This includes, among others, the need for political tolerance; regular intervals for elections as provided for by the respective national constitutions; equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media; and equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for.

Other countries where these guidelines have been used are Mauritius, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Under the DRC Constitution, the president is the head of state and government, and is assisted by four vice presidents.

A transitional parliament, consisting of approximately 500 members, is based in Kinshasa; the members were appointed by signatories to a 17 December 2002 peace agreement between the former warring parties.

The cabinet is elected from the members of parliament. Under the present transitional set-up, members of cabinet were appointed by the signatories to the 2002 peace agreement. ‘ sardc.net

July 2006
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