Counting begins in DR Congo after chaotic election

Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun counting votes in the country's presidential and parliamentary elections after a day of chaotic and often violent polling raised fears of a protracted dispute over the outcome.


REUTERS - Officials began counting votes in Democratic Republic of Congo's second post-war election overnight, after a polling day marred by confusion, violence and alleged fraud.

Organisers pushed ahead with the presidential and parliamentary elections in the vast Central African nation despite fears that logistical delays and complaints over the process would create a bitterly contested result.

President Joseph Kabila faces ten rivals, headed by veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. About 18,500 people are running for 500 seats in parliament.

Some ballot papers in the legislative vote were dozens of pages long so officials had to flick through them looking for a single "X" marking a vote.

Provisional results are due by Dec. 6.

The election commission said the ballot was "satisfactory". Voting in some areas carried on into the night, while others were asked to be patient and mark their ballot on Tuesday.

"We have 63,000 polling stations. If of those we have even 1,000 which cause problems, that's manageable. For us we just want everyone to be able to vote," election commission spokesman Matthieu Mpita said on Sunday evening.

But across the nation voters complained the confusion over voter lists made it difficult for many to know where to vote.

At least three people were killed when masked gunmen attacked a polling station in the copper province, Katanga. There were numerous reports of violence and alleged fraud elsewhere.

Anaclet Tshimbalanga, the president of TDH, a human rights group in West Kasai province, said at least twelve polling stations had been torched in the provincial capital, Kananga, after residents said they had found ballot papers already marked in favour of Kabila.

"I saw them, other observers saw them, journalists saw them, they exist," he stated, adding that delays to voting meant voting was continuing late into the night.

Tension also ran high in the largely pro-Tshisekedi capital, Kinshasa.

At nightfall, there was a heavy police presence on the streets and reports of gunfire coming from popular neighbourhoods.

Highlighting the risk of the vote polarising the nation, a senior figure in Kabila's PPRD party said its supporters had been intimidated in opposition strongholds, especially the Kasai provinces.

"Things have not gone properly. PPRD supporters weren't even allowed to go into (polling stations) unless they agreed to voted for Tshisekedi," he told Reuters.

Congo's first post-war election was held in 2006, drawing a line under years of war and chaos and paving the way for renewed investor interest in a country rich in copper, cobalt, gold and other minerals.
That vote was largely seen as free and fair.

"I voted in 2006. It was not at all difficult then," said Murphy Mbemba, a 30 year old artist, in Kinshasa.

"(But) I cannot find my name on any centre (this time). I don't know where I should be voting," she added.

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