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Despite assurances, election date in doubt

Over the past weeks, Congolese officials have repeatedly insisted that they would be able to hold elections on November 28, as planned. Most recently, President Kabila himself, in a rare press conference yesterday in his office, explicitly confirmed the date.

Nonetheless, behind the scenes diplomats are expressing serious doubts, which two reports released this past week reinforce. (Also see this Reuters report)

The Congolese umbrella group Agir pour des élections libres et transparentes (AETA) concluded in a recent report that « we are worried by disturbing signs regarding the capacity of the electoral commission to master the logistical, technical, political and security challenges in order to be able to respect the election date of 28 November 2011. » The Atlanta-based Carter Center released a similar conclusion two days ago, saying that « scheduling and logistical tasks pose a serious threat to the election date. »

There are various reasons for the delay. The voter registration process took two months longer than expected, ending on July 15. There was then a delay in the ordering and printing of ballots, in part due to the suppliers in China and Germany; in part due to the huge number of candidates (18,386 for the legislative elections). While the electoral kits are being deployed throughout the country at the moment, the 120,000 ballot boxes still have not been delivered from China, and the ballots are only now being printed in South Africa.

According to diplomats, UN logistical officers have been saying for weeks that it will be almost impossible to deploy all the materials in time (other UN officials, however, insist that there is still enough time), while new litmuses keep on being set; the last one suggested that if the ballot boxes had not arrived by the beginning of this week, there should be a delay in the elections.

These delays are pushing the electoral calendar into dangerous territory. According to the electoral law, the voter roll has to be published one month ahead of the election campaign, i.e. by September 28. This has only happened over the past few days on the electoral commission’s new website. But a much more dangerous line will be crossed if elections themselves cannot be held by November 28, as the opposition is already saying it will not recognize the president anymore after December 6, when his constitutional term runs out.

Both reports press the electoral commission to begin thinking about a Plan B – what should be done if the current schedule cannot be met. The AETA report already calls for a national debate on possible delays. Several months ago already, the International Crisis Group already called for the main political parties to agree on a transitional period that would allow for a delay, a call echoed by one of the main Congolese human rights groups, ASADHO. At least one presidential candidate agrees, Oscar Kashala, as does the leader of the RCD, Azarias Ruberwa.

Nonetheless, President Kabila and the election commission Mulunda Ngoy still insist on November 28. For the moment, no diplomat seems to disagree with them, at least not in public.

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