In Congo, a Vote Followed by Two More Weeks of Tension

View a slide show of Congo’s Election Day.

Updated Dec. 9: Results from Congo’s election commission show President Joseph Kabila won.

Original Story:

Millions of Congolese went to the polls Monday to vote on a new president and Parliament. But several attacks leading up to the vote and early allegations of fraud have some wondering if this test of the Central African country’s stability will receive a failing grade.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, a mineral-rich nation of nearly 72 million and about the size of Western Europe, is voting on its next president. Ten candidates are challenging incumbent President Joseph Kabila. The main opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi was prime minister several times in the 1990s. He already has declared himself the winner of Monday’s vote.

DR Congo’s more than 30 million registered voters also will select 500 parliamentary seats. Some voters described the ballots as looking more like newspapers with dozens of candidates and their photographs displayed across several pages.

Leading up to the vote, several armed men attacked a convoy of pickup trucks carrying ballots to polling stations in Lubumbashi in southeastern DR Congo early Monday morning. Gunmen suspected of belonging to a secessionist movement also attacked two polling stations in the city, the BBC reported. Five people died in those incidents, according to The Associated Press.

Thierry Vircoulon, the International Crisis Group’s Central Africa project director, based in Nairobi, Kenya, said these are the DR Congo’s second democratic elections since a bloody war involving eight African nations from 1998 to 2003, but these are the first run by the government and not the international community.

These elections “are a test of capacity of the Congolese electoral authority,” he said. “We’re going to see if they are able to realize the same type of elections in 2006 and it doesn’t seem the case right now. It’s also a test of political tolerance for the various political parties, and again I’m not sure if this test is going to be a good one.”

Along with election-related violence and allegations of ballot box-stuffing, the vote had its share of logistical setbacks. According to early reports, one of the main problems voters had was they couldn’t find their names on the voter list, said Vircoulon. The electoral commission had to instruct those in charge of polling stations to let people vote and just check that they were from the area, he said.

The country now embarks on “two very tense weeks” as the ballots are counted, and post-election violence is not out of the question, Vircoulon said.

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