Tensions running high as massive protest against election irregularities expected in DR Congo capital

By Xinhua
On 27 December 2023 at 07:37

A week after the election day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), massive protest is expected Wednesday in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, with several presidential candidates denouncing the electoral process marred by episodes of irregularity.

Visible tensions have been running high since the beginning of the polling on Dec. 20. It was till the last presidential election in late 2018 that the DRC realized its "first peaceful transfer of power" since independence from Belgium, according to the United Nations.

Massive protest

Five presidential candidates announced on Dec. 23 to launch a massive protest in Kinshasa on Dec. 27 to denounce what they described as major irregularities in the electoral process.

"We will plan a march for Dec. 27. We will protest against the irregularities observed during the voting operations of Dec. 20," according to a statement of the five presidential candidates issued Saturday, including Martin Fayulu and Denis Mukwege, two main challengers in the race.

The demonstration would start from Triumphal Boulevard, where the parliament is located right next to the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), in downtown Kinshasa. Acts of violence among the protesters remain prime concerns for residents of Kinshasa.

Irregularities were reported in the general elections held on Dec. 20, as voters in the DRC were scheduled to elect a new president, members of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies, as well as municipal councilors.

Polling was officially extended to the following day as a large number of polling stations were not able to open due to the late arrival of voting materials and equipment. The extension was deemed against the electoral law and the Constitution by some presidential candidates.

The "irregularities sufficiently attest that on Dec. 20, 2023, it was a sham election, organized in violation of the fundamental right of the Congolese people," according to the statement.

On Monday, the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) called on stakeholders in the electoral process to "show the greatest restraint in their actions," to "reject hate speech and division, as well as violence in all its forms and to make their demands and protests peacefully."

On Dec. 23, 13 embassies in Kinshasa released a joint statement calling for restraint.

"We call on all stakeholders, in particular political actors, candidates and their supporters, to continue to exercise restraint, allow time for the process to continue and to assert their challenges peacefully, in accordance with the laws and the Constitution," read the statement.

Calls for annulment

As the CENI, the electoral body, has started publishing partial results of the presidential race, Moise Katumbi, one of the main opposition candidates in the presidential race, has suggested that the elections should be "annulled" because of "massive fraud."

"Faced with this unacceptable situation, we call for the immediate annulment of these chaotic elections, marred by massive fraud," read a statement by Katumbi on Dec. 23, a major challenger to the incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking reelection.

Denis Kadima, the CENI president, confessed to the press that he was unable to clarify the exact number of polling stations in operation, due to complications on the ground. "So, I am unable to give you these figures because there are machines, you saw, which were broken", said Kadima in an interview with local media published Tuesday.

About 75,000 polling stations were supposed to open for voters, yet polling continued on Dec. 23 in some parts of the country, three days after the fixated date, according to local media.

According to partial results announced by CENI late Monday, Tshisekedi was leading the race with 78.8 percent of the vote counted, while Katumbi ranked in second place with 17.3 percent of the vote.

Given the results announced by CENI so far account for more than 3.2 million ballots out of around 44 million voters registered, it is too early to call the election results.

Full provisional election results are expected by Dec. 31, as CENI will publish daily updates starting on Dec. 24.