The president of the National Election Commission (CENI), Corneille Nangaa, announced on Thursday, December 20, that general elections (including the presidential vote) originally scheduled for Sunday, December 23, have been delayed to Sunday, December 30. Nangaa said that the vote had to be delayed due to several factors, namely a fire that reportedly destroyed 80 percent of the voting machines in Kinshasa on December 13, as well as recent violence in northwestern parts of the country and an ongoing Ebola outbreak. Opposition candidates have denounced the move to postpone the elections. Following the announcement, residents gathered outside of the CENI headquarters in the capital to protest the decision. According to media reports, police officers pushed the demonstrators back from the building. Associated protests are expected in Kinshasa and other major urban areas in the coming hours and days. Clashes between rival political supporters, as well as between supporters and security forces, are likely.
On a related note, in anticipation of unrest surrounding the presidential election, the US and UK governments had already ordered all non-emergency personnel to depart the country and are continuing to advise their respective citizens to avoid nonessential travel to the DRC until the situation stabilizes. Remaining US government employees in the DRC are subject to a nightly curfew from 19:00 to 06:00 until further notice.
The long-awaited presidential and legislative elections would mark the first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960. As a security precaution, Congolese authorities had previously announced that land borders would close for 24 hours on election day and an increased security presence would be deployed throughout major urban centers and at polling stations on the day of the vote; it is currently unclear whether these security measures will remain in effect this weekend despite the delayed elections. Multiple clashes have erupted during political events held ahead of the elections, notably in Kalemie, Lubumbashi, Tshikapa, Kindu, and Mbuji-Mayi. At least seven people have reportedly been killed by security forces over the course of the campaign period.
President Joseph Kabila, whose term ended in 2016 but who has remained in power amid repeated election delays, has endorsed Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as the candidate of the ruling FCC (Front Commun pour le Congo) coalition. Other main candidates include Felix Tshisekedi of the CACH (Cap pour le Changement) opposition coalition party and Martin Fayulu of the Lamuka opposition coalition.
Individuals in the DRC are advised to monitor the political situation, avoid all protests and political demonstrations due to the risk of violence and arrest, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments, and refrain from discussing sensitive political topics in public.
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