After two years of setbacks, broken promises and delays, the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday effectively opened the starting gates for a crucial election that could alleviate —or perhaps worsen—the decades-long crisis gripping the vast central African nation.
“May the best person win,” the head of the electoral board, Corneille Nangaa, said, pre-empting the official start of campaigning by a day.
Voters on December 23 will choose a successor to outgoing President Joseph Kabila, who has constitutionally remained in power as caretaker leader even though his second and final elected term ended nearly two years ago.
At stake in the vote is political stewardship of a mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
Eastern DR Congo is ravaged by decades of inter-ethnic bloodshed and militia violence, as well as a deadly Ebola outbreak, testing a large UN peacekeeping mission.
Twenty-one candidates are registered by election officials to vie to replace the 47-year-old Kabila, who has ruled since January 2001, after his father, president Laurent-Desire Kabila, was assassinated.
Under international pressure against him seeking a third term, Kabila threw his support behind a chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, in August.
Around half of DR Congo’s population of 80 million are eligible to vote. The electoral board is standing by its decision to use 106,000 touchscreen electronic voting machines bought from South Korea, despite some opposition demands for paper ballots. -AFP