The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) electoral Commission has announced that the much anticipated Presidential elections will be held at the end of 2018 as opposition demands for transition government. The announcement on next year’s elections comes after years of political stalemate with the opposition piling pressure on Kabila to step down.
Officials from the electoral body told a news conference on Sunday that polling day will be December 23, 2018, and results to be published on January 9, 2019. According to the election roadmap, the new President is to be sworn in on January 13, 2019.
As per the Agreement reached by the President and the opposition in December last year, elections were due to take place this year and he (Kabila) would leave office. However, the electoral body had recently pushed the elections to April 2019, citing financial and logistical difficulties.
The DRC constitution gives a sitting President only two terms in office and President Kabila’s second term ended in December 2016. His failure to step down had sparked off violent protests across the country demanding for Kabila to leave.
The most recent of such violent protests were in the eastern town of Goma on Monday last week, where police clashed with angry demonstrators, leaving at least two people dead. Many more died in December 2016 following the postponement of the elections.
At the time, the President had stated that the National Electoral Commission needed enough time to register the over 40 million eligible voters in the vast country.
During a visit to DRC in November, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley held talks with President Kabila and officials from the electoral Commission. Ambassador Haley insisted that elections be held in 2018.
Sunday’s announcement could put to rest the long standing uncertainty in the volatile country, but the opposition say Kabila could be buying time to eventually remove Presidential term limits so as to stay in power. He hasn’t publicly stated that he plans to step down.
“This predatory regime wants to prolong the instability and misery of the people,” the main opposition figure Moise Katumbi who is currently exiled said on twitter, in reaction to the announcement by the electoral body.
“We do not accept this fantasy calendar. Stop. Kabila must go,” he further said.
Prior to the annoucement, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi said that they (opposition coalition Rassemblement) would agree to a further delay of elections only if they had assurance that Kabila will step down at the end of this year (2017) and a new transition government is put in place.
Opposition political parties are yet to issue a joint communiqué in reaction to the 2018 date. Augustin Kabuya the spokesman of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) told the press on Monday that consultations amongst the leaders of opposition parties were ongoing in order to avoid contradictory statements.
Joseph Kabila has led Congo since 2001 following the death of his father Desire Kabila and was supposed to leave office in December 2016.