The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has kicked off its month-long election campaign with 25 candidates vying for the presidency. The campaign comes amidst a tense political climate and ongoing fighting in the eastern part of the country. With a population of nearly 100 million, around 44 million registered voters are set to elect a new president on December 20, while also choosing candidates for legislative and local bodies.
President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking a second term, has been engaged in a pre-campaign for a while, attending public events and highlighting his record. The official campaign now allows for big rallies, media interviews, giant posters, and the distribution of flyers. Tshisekedi held a rally in Kinshasa, which was attended by 80,000 people despite steady rain. Supporters praised his commitment to honesty and action.
One of Tshisekedi’s main challengers, Martin Fayulu, addressed a rally in a nearby province, emphasizing the need to transform Congo. In total, there are a record-breaking 25,832 candidates for legislative elections, 44,110 for provincial bodies, and 31,234 for municipal councils, according to the Electoral Commission (CENI). However, there are concerns about the technical feasibility of organizing voting across the vast country, which faces limited infrastructure challenges.
The credibility of the CENI is under scrutiny due to the poor quality of many voter registration cards. Additionally, the ongoing violence in the east poses a significant threat to the electoral process. The eastern part of the country has been plagued by conflict for the past three decades, and the recent surge in violence by the M23 group, allegedly supported by Rwanda, has further escalated tensions. The international community has accused Rwanda of backing the M23, although Rwanda denies the claim. If rebels capture the provincial capital Goma, it could jeopardize the entire election process.
President Tshisekedi has expressed determination to restore calm in the east, improve public services and the economy, build infrastructure, and uphold freedom of speech and the press. While his record is seen as mixed by analysts, the opposition has already warned of potential election fraud. Major opposition candidates include Moise Katumbi, former governor of the Katanga mining region, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Doctor Denis Mukwege, and a former prime minister.
Despite the current political climate, some voters are optimistic about the value of voting. Eunice, a 20-year-old geography student, expressed happiness about voting for the first time. However, others like Ezechiel, a 24-year-old studying management IT, are skeptical and discouraged due to concerns of fraud. They believe that the 2018 election was marred by irregularities.
President Tshisekedi is considered the frontrunner, especially since there is only one round of voting. Nevertheless, representatives of five leading opposition groups have met to explore the possibility of presenting a single candidate. A coalition has been formed, but challenges remain in reaching a consensus.
As the election campaign unfolds in the DRC, the focus remains on addressing the technical and logistical challenges, maintaining transparency and credibility, and ensuring the peaceful participation of voters. The outcome of the election will not only determine the country’s leadership but also have implications for the future stability and development of the resource-rich nation.