Campaigning ends in landmark Congo elections

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Map of the Democratic Republc of Congo
Map of the Democratic Republc of Congo

The month long election campaign in the run up to this weekend's elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ended, with a one day break before voting can begin Sunday.

The fiercely fought campaign began on June 29th and involved no less than 9,707 parliamentary candidates and 33 presidential candidates. Canvassing ended yesterday with a mass rally in support of the current president Joseph Kabila.

Kabila, who became the youngest head of state in Africa in 2001, used his final speech before voting to claim credit for taking the D.R. Congo to its first democratic elections in over 40 years. "I can say to you without false modesty: mission accomplished" he told crowds of around 50,000 on Friday, "We've reunited and pacified the country. It is also a message of hope, and for peace and development and security after the polls."

The international community is taking a keen interest in the elections — the first since 1961. However, the July campaign has been marred by violence and accusations of fraud on all sides.

International observers, such as the Carter Centre, expressed concern that the incumbent President's domination of the media would undermine the campaign. Several hundred people protested at alleged irregularities in the polls on the 18th of July, which ended in 7 people being killed in police clashes. One candidate has also fled to Uganda after violence.

This Thursday, 6 people were killed in election related incidents in the capital, Kinshasa, and yesterday, Kabila's presidential guards killed an opposition candidate's bodyguard in a gunfight.

The U.N. has deployed its largest ever peacekeeping force — 17,000 — to monitor the elections, costing over $460 million. Despite troubles, the deputy U.N. representative in the country, Ross Mountain, said the Democratic Republic is ready for tomorrow's polls.

50,000 polling stations have been set up around the country, for the 25.6 million voters, with over 60,000 Congolese police and 1,700 international observers in place to monitor voting.