• Voter registrations, talks may postpone election due late-2016
  • Opposition accuse president of delaying vote to retain power

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s president called for the start of a voter registration process, a step that may delay elections due later this year, and warned other nations against interfering in the country’s politics.

“It must be remembered, once again, that Congo is a sovereign nation,” President Joseph Kabila said Wednesday in an address broadcast on national television on the eve of Congo’s Independence Day. He warned of “untimely and illicit foreign interventions in the internal political affairs of our country,” without giving further details.

Congo, Africa’s largest copper producer, is yet to have a democratic transfer of power. While presidential elections are scheduled this year, Kabila, who’s been in office since 2001, hasn’t yet said whether he will step down, in line with a constitution that limits the president to two terms. Delays in the government’s preparations mean the vote will probably be postponed, sparking criticism from countries such as the U.S.

Kabila, who last addressed the public in December, didn’t comment directly on his future. He said that a long-discussed voter registration process will begin in July, without saying how long it will last. The national electoral commission has said it could take as long as 16 months to update the voter list, which would delay the presidential election for at least a year. A May ruling by the country’s constitutional court said the president can stay in power even if elections are delayed.

Opposition Accusations

Opposition parties accuse Kabila of trying to delay the vote to retain office. In January 2015, as many as 40 people died in protests against Kabila extending his rule. Unrest could resume as the opposition plan further rallies and the economy worsens. Congo has cut its economic growth forecast this year to 5.3 percent from 9 percent and trimmed planned government spending because of drops in the prices of copper, oil and other key exports.

The U.S. last week imposed sanctions on a senior Congolese police officer for his role in election-related violence. Kabila in his speech said the country thanked its security forces for their work “in extremely difficult conditions in defense of the nation.”

During a public address in November, Kabila called for a national political dialogue on the organization of the polls. Seven months later there has been little progress, even after the appointment of an African Union international facilitator, Edem Kodjo. Some opposition leaders say they are reluctant to take part in talks that they see as a precursor to a long delay before elections.

On Wednesday, Kabila called on Kodjo to “finalize his consultations” and “rapidly open the national dialogue.”

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