Congo Ruling Coalition Insists Vote to Take Place This Year

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo will hold postponed elections in December, a spokesman for the ruling coalition said in a bid to allay fears of more of the delays that have previously sparked fatal protests.

“No other solution is possible in the current electoral process except the organization in December 2018 of presidential, national and provincial elections,” the Presidential Majority’s Andre-Alain Atundu told reporters Thursday. There’s “abundant proof” of President Joseph Kabila’s determination to hold the polls, Atundu said, pointing to the government financing the electoral commission’s preparations.

Elections were supposed to take place before the end of Kabila’s second term in December 2016, but the vote wasn’t organized in time. The president remained in office despite the two-term limit in Congo’s constitution, sparking protests in which many 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 electoral commission, known by its French acronym CENI, has scheduled polls for Dec. 23. Kabila’s refusal to indicate who will be the Presidential Majority’s candidate for head of state has fueled fears he will seek to change the constitution to run again, or push back the elections.

‘Moral Authority’

“When the time comes, the Presidential Majority will have its candidate who will submit their candidacy to CENI,” Atundu said. Kabila “is and remains the moral authority of the Presidential Majority, even after the elections,” he said.

Those aspiring to the presidency must file their applications between July 25 and Aug. 8, according to CENI’s calendar.

Addressing concerns Kabila’s supporters will try to organize a plebiscite to change the constitution, Atundu said “there was never any question of recourse to a referendum” during recent meetings of the ruling platform.

On Tuesday, Felix Tshisekedi, the newly elected president of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, Congo’s oldest and largest opposition party, addressed thousands of supporters in the capital, Kinshasa.

“Drive me to the final victory in the presidential election,” said Tshisekedi, who leads the party following the death of his father, Etienne, who came second in 2011’s presidential election.

Another opposition politician to have declared their intention to run for the presidency is Moise Katumbi, once a Kabila ally and former governor of Congo’s copper- and cobalt-rich Katanga province. He has lived in self-imposed exile since May 2016 and in June that year was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison. He says legal action against him has been politically motivated.

Polling published last month by New York University’s Congo Research Group found Katumbi would be the most popular candidate in a presidential election, winning 24 percent of the vote -- if he is allowed to participate.

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