(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s international partners must provide urgent financial support for the country’s electoral process so that delayed polls can take place next December, the head of the electoral authority said.
“What I will advise our partners is either they want to finance it and we kick this off, or they don’t want to finance it,” Independent Electoral Commission President Corneille Nangaa said in an interview Tuesday in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.
The commission, known by the French acronym CENI, on Nov. 5 published a calendar scheduling presidential and parliamentary elections for Dec. 23, 2018, a year later than opponents of President Joseph Kabila had demanded. CENI has previously blamed financial and logistical difficulties for its failure to organize elections last year, as demanded by the constitution.
Kabila, who’s led Africa’s biggest copper producer since 2001, was supposed to step down at the end of his second term in December 2016 after an election to find his successor. That vote was delayed and Kabila remained in office, sparking protests in which dozens of people were killed by security forces. The central African nation, which gained independence from Belgium almost six decades ago, has never had a peaceful transfer of power.
The overall budget for the elections, which includes senatorial, gubernatorial and mayoral races due between March 2019 and January 2020, is estimated at $1.3 billion, Nangaa said. The first phase, a $400 million project to enroll voters that is almost complete, has been financed by the Congolese government, he said. Nangaa estimated organizing the presidential and parliamentary ballots will cost $526 million.
“Elections are first and foremost a matter of national sovereignty,” he said. “The ideal thing would have been for the government to finance them alone but, in such an environment, if Congo’s friends can also support, it won’t be a bad thing.”
Nangaa didn’t say what proportion of the remaining costs he’d like Congo’s international partners to contribute.
Congo’s main opposition parties have united to reject the calendar, arguing it’s a violation of an agreement they signed with Kabila’s ruling coalition on Dec. 31 accepting he could remain in power if presidential and parliamentary elections were held this year. The Rassemblement, the biggest opposition coalition, and two large political parties, have called on Kabila to step down before the end of the year and elections to be held no later than June 30, 2018. They accuse CENI’s leaders of working in the president’s interests.
Nangaa dismissed the opposition’s allegations as “a political accusation.”
“Such as the calendar is published, it’s non-negotiable,” he said. “The advice I will give to all the political actors is to prepare themselves for elections and the rest is a distraction.”
At the briefing where the calendar was unveiled, CENI Deputy Rapporteur Onesime Kukatula said the elections will take place subject to “legal, financial, political and security constraints” being overcome and warned “the non-respect of the critical dates can lead to the modification of the calendar’s implementation.”
The first deadline specified in the schedule is the adoption of a draft electoral law by Nov. 30. The legislation should be transferred this week to parliament to be debated, Nangaa said, adding that it wasn’t clear whether it would be adopted by that date.
“The ideal thing is not to push back the date,” Nangaa said. “We are nearer to elections than we’ve ever been.”
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