By David Lewis
KINSHASA – Congo’s President Joseph Kabila rubber stamped a long-awaited electoral law on Thursday, setting the stage for elections in June meant to draw a line under years of war and chaos, officials said.
Within hours, electoral commiss
ion chief Apollinaire Malu Malu said presidential and parliamentary polls would go ahead on June 18, a date already mooted, across the vast Democratic Republic of Congo. Nominations would open on Friday, he said.
Under a peace deal that officially ended a five-year regional war in 2003, Congo’s first democratic polls in four decades are due to be completed by June 30, although many analysts had expected slippage amid political disputes and militia violence.
“The electoral commission has decided to organise the first round of elections before June 30, 2006 to give the Congolese people hope and make elections in the Congo an irreversible reality,” Malu Malu told a news conference.
He said Kabila had approved the electoral law.
The electoral commission had been waiting for Kabila to approve the law before it could fix the poll date, register candidates or print ballot papers for 25 million voters spread across a chaotic country the size of Western Europe.
Congo’s polls were originally meant to be held in 2005. But fighting has continued across much of the east and wrangling between the former warring factions, now in a power-sharing government, has repeatedly stalled the transition.
The logistical nightmare of organising polls in Congo — where roads are non-existent and election material has to be shipped by air, down rivers and on people’s heads through the jungle — has also delayed the process.
The leading UDPS opposition party of Etienne Tshisekedi, has boycotted the process and is due to hold a demonstration in the capital Kinshasa on Friday.
Previous UDPS protests have sparked clashes with police.
The party said in January it would take part in elections if certain conditions were met such as re-opening voter registration and allowing UDPS participation in electoral preparations. But the conditions have not yet been met.
The former Belgian colony’s 1998-2003 war sucked in six African countries and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in 60 years. Since it began some 4 million people have been killed, mostly from hunger and disease.
The world’s biggest peacekeeping force, with some 17,000 troops and police, is trying to restore order and control lawless militia fighters in the east, but has had to contend with ill-discipline and dissent in a national army forged from various rival armed factions. — Reuter