The ruling coalition of the Democratic Republic of Congo said a series of elections set to take place over the next year should be delayed by at least six months to allow the country to hold a national census.
“The political class should have the courage to support the organization of a national census, if necessary,” Andre-Alain Atundu Liongo, spokesman for the Presidential Majority, told reporters Thursday in the capital, Kinshasa. “If this means a delay of six months, eight months or more, the political class needs to be prepared.”
Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest copper producer, plans to hold a series of elections over the next 12 months, culminating in a presidential vote in November 2016.
Opposition politicians have warned that the ruling party wants to delay the electoral process to allow President Joseph Kabila to hold on to power when his two-term mandate ends next year. Conducting a census in Congo, a country that’s about the size of Western Europe, would take years, according to Jason Stearns, a senior fellow at the New York-based Center on International Cooperation
In January, Congo’s Senate abandoned plans for a revised electoral law that would have required a census to be held before elections could take place after the proposal triggered protests in Kinshasa. At least 36 people died and telecommunications services were suspended during the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch.
Atundu’s statement coincided with the release on Thursday of an audit of the current voter register by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie on behalf of Congo’s national electoral commission.
While the OIF concluded that the register is “balanced,” it recommended that the electoral body undertake a number of steps including the registration of citizens now old enough to vote and the removal of duplicate voters.
The leader of the OIF delegation, Siaka Sangare, told reporters in Kinshasa that only 82 percent of eligible voters were currently included on the voter register -- 30.7 million people. About 7 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 22 need to be registered and as many as 300,000 duplicate voters need to be removed.
The OIF recommended that Congo should undertake a census in the future and use this data to strengthen the voter register. It didn’t specify whether the Congo should undertake a census before the next elections.
Atundu said that a decision on the census could be taken during a planned political dialogue between ruling and opposition parties announced by Kabila earlier this week. Opposition groups including Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation and a party of former members of the ruling coalition now called the G7 have already said they won’t participate in the discussions.
“The dialogue is a strategy by President Kabila to change the constitution and secure a third mandate” Kamerhe said in an interview in Lubumbashi in southeast Congo on Nov. 7. “We will not participate in a dialogue that is a trap.”