The United States, France, Britain and four other UN Security Council members on Monday urged DR Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to publicly declare that he will not run for election this year.
After much delay, the DR Congo will hold elections on December 23 that are expected to pave the way to the first peaceful transfer of power in the vast mineral-rich country, ending Kabila’s 17-year-rule.
Kabila, 46, has not yet clearly stated whether he will step aside.
In a joint statement, seven of the 15 Security Council members said Kabila’s “public commitment not to seek a third term or change the constitution would be crucial to instill confidence in the electoral process.”
Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, the Netherlands and Sweden joined the three permanent council members in issuing the statement following an informal meeting on preparations for the crucial elections.
The Security Council is stepping up its focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo as it heads toward the December polls, with concerns over violence following deadly clashes with protesters.
Congolese Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu said his country was being unfairly depicted as a “hell hole for human rights” and argued that it faced the challenge “like many other great democracies, of balancing the need for law and order, public security, with respect for individual liberties.”
US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who traveled to the DR Congo last year and met Kabila, told the foreign minister that the Congolese she met want to have the right to protest without fear.
“They want to be able to express themselves without having to worry about, if they protest, whether they’re going to have ammunition fired at them or whether they’re going to be harshly treated,” she said.
Scrap electronic voting
The United States also urged the election commission to scrap plans to use electronic voting for the first time.
“These elections must be held by paper ballot so there is no question by the Congolese people about the result,” said Haley. “The US has no appetite to support an electronic voting system.”
E-ballots have never been tested in DR Congo, Haley said, adding that “employing an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk”.
“It has the potential to seriously undermine the credibility of elections that so many have worked hard to see have happen.”
Some 46 million registered voters will go the polls on December 23 to elect a president and to fill seats in the national parliament and provincial legislatures.
Electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa said the use of “voting machines” would reduce costs and the amount of equipment to be deployed in the 90,000 voting stations.
Rejecting criticism, Nangaa said the commission, known as the CENI, expected support from its partners — “not resistance and negative actions towards our efforts.”
Human Rights Watch’s Central African director Ida Sawyer told the council that the new electronic voting machines “create new opportunities for fraud and the way votes are tallied.”
“Many Congolese will need to be shown how to use the machines, preventing them from casting a secret ballot,” said Sawyer.