Congo Election Timetable Rules Out 2016 Presidential Vote

  • Delay risks destabilizing world's biggest cobalt producer
  • Presidential election had been scheduled for November

A timetable prepared by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission makes it impossible for Africa’s biggest copper producer to hold a presidential vote this year, even though Joseph Kabila’s term in office expires in November.

The chart prepared Jan. 14 by the National Independent Electoral Commission, or CENI, shows it would take more than 13 months to partially revise the voter register, while a full revision would take 16 months and cost as much as $290 million.

The timetable was published on the Twitter account of Michael Tshibangu, a U.K.-based lawyer who heads the Association for Development and Democracy in Congo. It’s been circulated to ambassadors in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, over the past two weeks, said a diplomat who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. CENI didn’t respond to two e-mails and two phone calls seeking comment.

‘Designed to Fail’

Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt, had been preparing to hold six elections over 13 months culminating in the vote for a new president in November. Votes to elect new governors and provincial assemblies in October were delayed and other election preparations have been slowly moving along. Opposition groups say the election program is designed to fail and allow Kabila to extend his presidency beyond a second term, which the constitution stipulates should be his final one.

Delaying the elections risks destabilizing a country where mining companies including Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore Plc, Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport McMoRan Inc. and Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. operate, according to analysts including Christoph Wille at Control Risks in London.

Congo’s voter register, which was last updated before the presidential vote in
December 2011, shows that 82 percent of Congo’s eligible voters, or 30.7 million people, are registered, according to a November report by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, commissioned by CENI. About 7 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 22 need to be enrolled and as many as 1.6 million deceased and 300,000 duplicate voters need to be removed, it said.

Congo’s 2016 budget includes 537.8 billion francs ($58 million) for the organization of elections this year. Partners including the United Nations and the European Union have said they are ready to support the voter registration process.

A group of opposition parties and civil society groups, known as the Front Citoyen 2016, last month said that the government must begin the enrollment of new voters on the electoral register by Feb. 10 or face demonstrations.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to fix the number of registered voters.)

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