Congo leader vows elections to proceed on schedule in December

(Bloomberg) — Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila vowed delayed elections to select his successor will take place as planned this year.

Presidential and parliamentary votes have been delayed since 2016, after the electoral commission failed to organize them on time. The central African nation, which is the world’s largest cobalt producer, hasn’t had a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.The exclusion of major rivals and aspects of the polls’ preparation have led opposition leaders to say the elections won’t be credible.

“I reaffirm the irreversible character of holding the elections planned for the end of this year,” Kabila told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. “Everything will be implemented in order to guarantee the peaceful and credible character of these polls.”

Kabila, in power since his father was assassinated in 2001, nominated his preferred candidate to replace him in August, bringing to an end long-running speculation he intended to defy a two-term constitutional limit and run for office again.

The 47-year-old leader’s decision in 2016 to stay on beyond the end of his second mandate provoked fears he’d seek to change or reinterpret the constitution and sparked sporadic protests in which security forces killed dozens of people.

Anointed successor

Kabila named Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as his coalition’s choice to be the next president, but two of his key adversaries won’t be allowed to participate in the elections scheduled for Dec. 23. Jean-Pierre Bemba, who came second in the 2006 poll and was acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court in June, was disqualified because of a second conviction for witness-tampering. Moise Katumbi, a one-time Kabila ally, was prevented from returning from self-imposed exile to register as a candidate.

From the ranks of the opposition, the best-established contenders authorized to run are Felix Tshisekedi, leader of Congo’s largest opposition party, and Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in the last election in 2011.

The opposition has said it expects the government to use voting machines and the electoral register to the advantage of Shadary and pro-Kabila parliamentary candidates. It’s also accused the current administration of shutting down political space and repressing critical voices. Four pro-democracy activists who had urged Kabila to step down were handed 12-month prison sentences on Tuesday for inciting civil disobedience.

The UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned this month that “widespread violations of civil and political rights endanger the credibility of the electoral process.”

(By William Clowes)