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Tshisekedi favoured to retain Presidency in $1.2 billion elections

Delays and bureaucratic snarl-ups mar early voting across country with 44 million on electoral register

Voting started in Congo-Kinshasa's national and local elections on 20 December after three hours of delays in the country's biggest cities, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The latest independent opinion surveys put President Félix Tshisekedi ahead of his three main opponents with 49.3% of the vote, and the Katanga-based business mogul-politician Moïse Katumbi running second with 28.1%. The other two contenders are Martin Fayulu, judged to have won the 2018 election according to data leaks from the electoral commission, and Denis Mukwege, a surgeon who has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in war zones. Campaigning has been limited geographically, with only Tshisekedi and Katumbi mounting nationwide campaigns (AC Vol 64 No 24, Meagre record haunts Tshisekedi's plan).

The electoral rules, introduced by previous president Joseph Kabila, which made the presidential election a 'first past the post' contest with just one round of voting will favour Tshisekedi. The failure of opposition candidates to unite behind a single contender is widely reckoned to have damaged their chances of success in this winner-takes-all political system.

The national elections are being held against a backdrop of chaos that cast doubt over their integrity despite the good reputation enjoyed by Denis Kadima, Chairman of the Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI), and the estimated $1.2 billion spent on organising the logistics and registering over 44 million voters.

The electoral commission made an 'urgent' request to President Tshisekedi for four aircraft and 10 helicopters to transport electoral material throughout the country, days after a similar request was made to the Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo (MONUSCO) which still operates in three conflict-ridden provinces of the east but is due to withdraw at the demand of the government.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Kinshasa requested that the mission be allowed to help move election materials and equipment to provinces other than the ones where UN team now operates.

The European Union and East African Community, of which Congo-K is a member, are among several international organisations that have refused to send election observer teams, citing security problems and questions over the integrity of the elections.

The political tensions have been complicated by the announcement by Corneille Nangaa of an agreement between his Alliance Fleuve Congo (Congo River Alliance) with the M23, the Rwanda-backed militia group that has been operating eastern Congo-K. Nangaa is a former head of the electoral commission in Congo-K and now lives in exile in Kenya.

At a press conference in Nairobi earlier this week, Nangaa called for 'the union of all political, social and military forces' to 'rebuild the state' and 'restore peace'. He said that at least nine armed groups, including the M23, had joined his project for 'national unity and stability' (AC Vol 64 No 22, Kagame tests his security playbook to the limit).

In October, Nangaa told French media that he had been pressured to agree to a 'power sharing agreement' between Tshisekedi and former president Joseph Kabila, to hand victory to the former following the 2018 election which he presided over, which was 'validated and certified' by South Africa, Kenya and Egypt (AC Vol 63 No 5, Spymaster's arrest heralds purge). Independent election monitors said that Fayulu had won the election by a substantial margin.

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