Long-delayed elections due to be held in DR Congo on Sunday will be postponed by a week after voting machines were destroyed in a warehouse fire, the country’s electoral board said on Thursday.
“The presidential, legislative and provincial elections will therefore take place on December 30, 2018,” the head of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI), Corneille Nangaa, told the press.
“The electoral process continues,” he says.
The sprawling central African country is in the grip of a two-year-old crisis over elections for a successor to President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001.
The announcement on Thursday concerns the loss of South Korean-made touchscreen voting machines introduced for the poll.
Under the system, a voter touches a photo of the candidate to cast their ballot and then receives a printout of it. The paper is then put in a ballot box to provide verification by a manual count later.
The government said the machines were vital for staging elections swiftly, fairly and accurately across a vast country with poor infrastructure.
But the devices sparked a political storm from the outset, with some opposition leaders – although not all – saying they were vulnerable to hacking and fraud.
On December 13, a fire broke out in a Kinshasa warehouse, destroying around 8,000 of some 10,000 machines earmarked for the capital, Kinshasa, according to CENI.
More than a tenth of the country’s 44 million registered voters live in the city.
Nangaa said his organisation had brought to Kinshasa surplus machines that it had in the provinces.
“However, the problem is that our reserve stocks do not include ballot papers. We therefore have had to order them from the South Korean supplier,” he says
“Five million ballot papers have been ordered,” he says.
“The first batch arrived in Kinshasa on Wednesday (but) the final batch can only be delivered on Saturday evening,” the eve of the elections, he says.
Kabila, 47, was due to step down at the end of 2016 after completing his constitution-limited two terms in office.
But he stayed on, invoking a caretaker clause in the constitution that enables a president to stay in office until his or her successor is elected.
The elections were postponed until the end of 2017 under a deal brokered by the powerful Catholic church, and then again until 2018.
The delay sparked protests that were violently suppressed, with dozens of deaths, leading to an outcry by western nations and the UN.
Opposition candidates last week suggested the government could have been behind the fire, to use as a pretext to again delay the vote.
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