Millions of Congolese went to the polls today to cast their votes in presidential and parliamentary elections, with senior United Nations officials urging all political parties and their supporters to ensure that the ballot is staged peacefully.
Roger Meece, the head of the UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), toured several polling stations in Kinshasa, the capital, and said he was satisfied with the relatively orderly and peaceful way in which voting has been conducted so far.
Mr. Meece, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the DRC, said he was particularly encouraged by the professional manner in which officials from the country’s independent electoral authorities (known by their French acronym, CENI) were carrying out their duties.
CENI representatives told Mr. Meece that in general voting has been taking place smoothly, but the names of some prospective voters were missing from the voter list at specific booths, despite them having valid registration cards.
The election campaign has been marked by tensions between supporters of rival presidential candidates and political parties, and on Saturday three people were killed in Kinshasa when security forces intervened to disperse demonstrators.
The peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) issued a statement yesterday calling on authorities and political leaders to refrain from any actions that could lead to further violence, and Mr. Meece underlined this today.
He called the violence regrettable and urged political leaders “to exercise restraint and to accept the verdict of the polls.”
Mr. Meece’s comments echo those of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who released a statement yesterday in which he stressed the need for the elections to be conducted as peacefully and smoothly as possible.
More than 31 million people have been registered to vote in today’s elections, according to media reports, with an estimated 19,000 candidates.
The elections represent a major logistical challenge given the lack of infrastructure in the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe, and the remoteness of many areas. MONUSCO has helped authorities to transfer and distribute the ballots.