Much hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo rests on these new voting machines.
Long-delayed elections are expected in the country later on December 23 and election officials see this technology as vital to holding those polls, believing it will cut costs, and help reduce electoral fraud.
On Saturday (October 20), Congo’s deputy prime minister said that tablet-like voting machines for December’s election had been ordered and will finish arriving this month, despite suspicions by diplomats and the opposition that they may enable fraud.
The electoral commission says the machines speed up the counting of votes in the vast central African country where past elections have been marred by voting irregularities or violence.
“We are on schedule, according to our planning, we are right on schedule, do not worry. According to our planning, the last containers will be arriving before the end of the month of October,” said Corneille Nangaa, president of Congo’s Electoral Commission (CENI).
President Joseph Kabila is due to step down after 17 years in power.
The election, which was meant to happen before Kabila’s mandate expired in 2016, has been delayed for so long that many doubted it would happen.
If it goes ahead, it will be Democratic Republic of Congo’s first peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
But, doubts about the voting technology have increased fears that polls will be marred by chaos. Presidential candidates recently met with officials from CENI to express their grievances over the use of the machines, but say the answers are still not satisfactory.
“The biggest debate was around the voting machine and the voter registry, which contains some ghost voters, that was the main point of the debate, as well as the security of the candidates. But there has been no solution up until today. We were scheduled to meet but we didn’t, more meetings have been scheduled, I am now apprehensive because we have 80 days to the elections, and what will these meetings accomplish? CENI keeps saying that elections will take place on December 23, but how can we hold elections on December 23 if we keep having meeting after meeting?” said presidential candidate, Marie Jose Ifoko.
Congo’s influential Catholic bishops have called for certification of the machines by international experts, and opponents reject the machines’ use.
“We are currently facing a serious problem, because electoral campaigns are set to begin from November 22, which means it will be too late. We can already say that from mid November, elections will not be good, and that we are headed towards violence and chaos, that’s what we fear. We are now in the final days and there needs to be renewed efforts to avoid all of that,” Isidore Ndaywel È Nziem, a moderator for the Committee of the Catholic Laity (CLC).
Western governments and investors regard the election as a crucial step towards ending political instability that is impeding investment in Congo, which is rich in natural resources but mired in poverty and economic and humanitarian crises.