Kinshasa - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is ready to hold its harmonised general elections on 23 December 2018, the government’s chief spokesman has said.
Over the past two years, the Independent National Electoral Commission has failed to hold the elections, resulting in public frustration and civil unrest, which has seen clashes between civilians and security forces in the capital Kinshasa.
The vast central African country was expected to hold general elections in November 2016 to elect a new political leadership after President Joseph Kabila’s 16-year rule ended in December that year. The elections were pushed to December 2017 but could not take place after political stakeholders failed to reach common ground. The situation was also compounded by President Kabila, who refused to relinquish power.
But this time around, the elections will take place in December as planned, according to the DRC’s Communication and Media Minister, Lambert Mende Omalanga.
He said the electoral body recently finalised the registration of voters and 46 million people have registered to vote in the presidential, legislative and the local parliament elections.
In an interview, Mende said the registration process covered all the country’s 147 counties, including the two counties that are currently experiencing civil conflicts in North Kivu and Kasai provinces.
“The electoral commission has finalised the registration of voters. The registration of the voters is a difficult exercise, but they have just finished recently, despite some problems of security they encountered.
“We have witnessed the killing of seven electoral officials in some areas by people who want to jeopardise the exercise. But we managed to send in troops and maintain security and the electoral commission went on with the registration process and managed to register 46 million voters.
He said what remains for the electoral commission is the registration of candidates, who will run in the elections, and the publishing of the voters roll as well as the general organisation of the elections in December.
However, the government is constantly under pressure from Western powers trying to meddle in the electoral process, the minister said.
“So as you know, people are excited about the elections in the country. But Congo is Congo and, of course, many people, especially Western powers, want to control this huge country with so much possibility, so much wealth and minerals.
“All these people want to be in control of the country. So there is a lot of interference from abroad. But for us, we consider the elections as a domestic issue.
“It is a Congolese problem that is going to be solved by the Congolese, following Congolese laws by the independent electoral commission constituted by the Congolese.
“But we are experiencing a lot of pressure from our so-called good friends out of Africa, who want to come in and try to control the electoral process. But we have resisted all these attempts by foreigners to implicate themselves in such a domestic issue.
“They have been trying to do so by blackmailing us that ‘if you don’t allow us to be involved if you do not allow us to interfere, we will not help you financially’. But lucky enough, we have enjoyed some amelioration of our mineral resources,” he narrated.
Mende stressed that the DRC government was not worried about the cost of the elections, thanks to the rising prices of cobalt, one of the country's key minerals, on the world market.
“We have experienced a dramatic increase in the price of cobalt that helped us to have more financial resources and that enabled us to meet the expenses of our elections. So, we are no longer asking the EU, Belgium (our former colonisers), or France, the UK or Americans for financial assistance.
We are able to finance our elections and it is a more comfortable situation for us. But they are not happy with this development, and they are trying to spread some misinformation and, disinformation about the country. But we are on the right track for the elections that will be held on the 23rd December this year,” he said.
DRC is one of the world's major producers of cobalt, a mineral essential for many industries, including rechargeable batteries. The mineral-rich African country supplies up to 50 percent of cobalt, mostly from Katanga province.
Mende said the electoral budget over a three-year period is about US$1.3 billion, including US$500 million needed to hold the general elections in December.
“The electoral budget as a whole, when the electoral commission came to the government to seek for finance, they told us that because they are preparing for these elections for over a three year period, they requested for US$1.3 billion.
“We are a big country with a big population of around 80 million, out of which we have 46 million people who have registered to vote. As for this year (2018), they need US$500 million and this has been secured already.
“And we have made arrangements with them that each month the government releases a part, and when we reach December, we could have released the US$500 million that is needed to hold the elections,” he said.
He said the incoming administration will have to find money for local government elections in 2019.
No candidate yet
There are more than 400 political parties in the DRC, and most are yet to come forward with presidential candidates, including the ruling majority coalition.
Though, he could not reveal whether Kabila will run for a third term, Mende said: “We do have a constitution here that says no one after serving two terms in the office can directly run for the third term.
“But we did not yet choose him because we say in French ‘each thing with its time’. The time for selecting a candidate will come around June/July when the electoral commission will request political parties to present their candidates. Now we are not ready to give a name. We are still consulting among us, in the ruling party,” the minister said.
“What we hope is that a member of the ruling party will win depending on the will of the people. We cannot say we shall impose someone we chose but we hope that a member of the ruling majority will be in charge because we see the way our brothers in the opposition are using their time running here and there abroad to seek assistance.
“And they neglect contact with people in towns and rural areas. We are the only ones, the majority ruling coalition, taking time to speak to people to prepare for the elections,” he said while taking a jibe at the opposition.
The opposition under Moise Katumbi, the fugitive former governor of Katanga Province, presented a united front at a meeting this week in South Africa with plans to form a coalition ahead of the December elections.