Congo Postpones Elections in Ebola-Hit Regions Until March

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral authority postponed Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections in three parts of the central African country until March, citing an outbreak of Ebola, militia violence and inter-community clashes.

The main opposition denounced the delay as politically motivated because it effectively disenfranchises almost 1.2 million voters in the regions, which are known as strongholds of the current president’s critics. The presidential outcome will be announced before those votes are even cast.

“This decision is unjustifiable and unacceptable,” Pierre Lumbi, the campaign director of Martin Fayulu, one of two key opposition candidates, told reporters Thursday in the capital, Kinshasa. The opposition alliance that backs Fayulu has called for a general strike on Friday to demand the electoral commission reverses its decision and organizes the vote nationwide, he said.

The commission on Wednesday cited the Ebola outbreak and frequent attacks by militias in its decision to put off the vote in Butembo and Beni in the east, as well as the rural area surrounding Beni. Polls in the western district of Yumbi, where more than 100 people were killed in inter-community violence last week, will also be delayed. More than 400 people have been infected with Ebola.

The elections will go ahead in the rest of the country on Dec. 30 as planned. Results for the presidential vote will be announced on Jan. 15 and the next head of state will take the oath of office three days later, the commission said. There are about 40 million registered voters nationwide.

Incumbent’s Choice

Congo Postpones Elections in Ebola-Hit Regions Until March

Government opponents said the delay was designed to suppress opposition votes in areas hostile to outgoing President Joseph Kabila and his chosen candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

“It’s the Kabila regime which is doing this,” Jaribu Muliwavyo, an opposition lawmaker from Beni, said by phone, pointing out that campaigning was able to take place in the region. “It’s a political decision to exclude a category of the population which doesn’t agree with the head of state,” he said.

Police and the military deployed in Beni and Goma, Congo’s largest city in the east and traditionally an opposition stronghold, on Thursday, to disperse protesters who’d taken to the streets to erect barricades and burn tires.

Congo Postpones Elections in Ebola-Hit Regions Until March

Shadary, a former interior minister, is facing two major challengers. Felix Tshisekedi is the leader of Congo’s largest opposition party while Fayulu heads an alliance backed by heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, who have been barred from pursuing their own presidential ambitions.

The partial delay is a sign that the commission “isn’t ready” for the elections and is trying to entice the opposition into endorsing a further countrywide delay, Paul Tshilumbu, a spokesman for Tshisekedi’s party, said by phone late Wednesday.

The polls were supposed to take place on Dec. 23 but were pushed back by a week after a fire on Dec. 13 in Kinshasa, which the authorities said destroyed election materials. Elections were initially due in 2016 but not organized on time, allowing Kabila to remain in office beyond the end of his second term, the maximum permitted by Congo’s constitution.

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