DRC: voters hold breath as counting goes on

The full results of the poll, pitting President Joseph Kabila and ex-rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba, are not expected before November 19.

In the meantime, the people of the DRC are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the election with early reports indicating a neck and neck race between the two rivals.

The run-off ballot comes three months after elections held simultaneously with polls for provincial parliaments, which was the culmination of the first democratic electoral process in more than four decades in the country and followed a three-year transition period that started with the end of a devastating 1998-2003 war.

Observers of the landmark presidential run-off have, meanwhile, generally praised its organisation, despite some disruptions caused by the death of two election official after the elections last Sunday.

The observers said the disturbances were not a big issue as far as voting was concerned, as they took place after the poll.

The United Nations, in a statement, said: “The secretary-general (Kofi Annan) is pleased that voters were able to cast their ballots in a generally free and calm environment on Sunday, although he is concerned aabout the violent incidents that took place in Equateur province and near Bunia in Ituri district.”

Annan also welcomed the October 29 signing by representatives of Kabila and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, of a declaration of intent regarding their conduct after the elections.

The UN chief also called on the DRC presidential candidates and their supporters to “exercise patience and restraint, and to take all possible steps to prevent any acts of violence while waiting for results to be announced by the Independent Electoral Commission”.

More than 25 million DRC citizens were registered to choose between Kabila, who took a lead in July’s first round, and Bemba, a businessman and former rebel, who became vice-president during a three-year transition from war to peace.

Although counting has began, provisional results are not expected earlier than November 19, while those from the provincial parliamentary polls are due in December.

Former Mozambique President Joachim Chissano said the electoral process “had been well organised”.

A United States spokesman said the election was “light years ahead of anything” previously seen in DRC.

The vote was later in the week rerun in the north-east town of Bumba, where polling stations were burnt, amid fraud claims.

Media reports said that that the mood was tense in Kinshasa, with European Union troops patrolling the streets and helicopters flying overhead.

The elections are supposed to draw a line under DRC’s five-year war, which led to an estimated four million deaths and drew in the armies of at least six other African countries.

Former Canadian prime minister and head of the US-based Carter Center’s observing team Joe Clark said: “There does not appear to be a trend of either intimidation or violence. One could almost say the opposite.”

Unofficial results later in the week showed a similar trend to the first round, with Kabila winning by a landslide in the Swahili-speaking east and Bemba ahead in the Lingala-speaking west.

These results imply that the support for Kabila of the candidates who came third and fourth in the first round, both from the west, has done little to boost his support there.

Kabila won first round polls on 30 July, but fell just short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory.

Many Congolese fear that whoever loses the elections will resort to violence, as both men have considerable numbers of armed men and weapons at their disposal.

Both men have said they will accept the results, as long as they are free and fair.

DR Congo’s rich reserves of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan columbite or tantalite) – used in mobile phones – have attracted a series of armed groups, both Congolese and foreign, intent on looting.

November 2006
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