DRC poll: irregularities 'widespread'

30 November 2011 - 02:18 By Sapa-AFP
Election officials sit behind a pile of presidential ballot papers emptied onto a table at a polling station in Lubumbashi on November 28, 2011.
Election officials sit behind a pile of presidential ballot papers emptied onto a table at a polling station in Lubumbashi on November 28, 2011.

Widespread fraud has been reported in Democratic Republic of Congo elections as votes were counted after a chaotic campaign marred by deadly violence.

Raising concerns about the integrity of the vote, domestic and international election observers cited monitors' reports of undelivered ballot papers, ballot box stuffing and millions of voters being turned away from polling stations.

"The irregularities are so widespread it will be difficult for anyone to ignore [them]," said Pascal Kambale, country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Preliminary results in the presidential race, which pitted incumbent Joseph Kabila against a divided opposition field of 10 candidates, are not expected until December 6, leaving the country with a tense week of waiting after a chaotic election day on which at least 10 people died.

Kambale said millions of voters were turned away countrywide, being told they were at the wrong polling station.

"A more worrying sign of a probable rigging attempt was a number of already-filled-up ballot papers that were discovered across the country," he said of reports from a network of some 5000 observers sponsored by his non-profit foundation.

Election monitoring groups were still working on their official reports, but other observers reported similar problems.

Jerome Bonso, coordinator of the Coalition for Transparent and Peaceful Elections, a Congolese grouping, said the vote had been blemished by "attempts at fraud and manipulation", people being turned away from polling stations and attempted ballot box stuffing.

"It's an explosive atmosphere," he said.

"We risk having a critical period of tensions."

A UN source reported discoveries of premarked ballots, and the United States expressed concern about what it described as voting ''anomalies".

Ballot counting began after polling stations closed at 5pm on Monday, and went ahead through the night - often by lantern-light in a country with a limited electric grid - continuing yesterday in many places.

The Independent National Electoral Commission said voting would continue yesterday to give all the country's 32 million registered voters a chance to cast ballots, but did not give details or say where the extension would apply.

Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, is tipped to win a new five-year term, thanks largely to opposition divisions, after parliament changed the constitution in January to scrap two-round elections in favour of a single-round, first-past-the-post system.

His main rival is veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. The political environment remained explosive yesterday after the previous day's bloodshed.

In the worst incident, gunmen opened fire on a polling station in southeastern Lubumbashi in an apparent separatist attack.

They killed two policemen at point-blank range and a woman was hit by a stray bullet.