- - Monday, November 28, 2011

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Congolese voters went to the polls Monday in their country’s second set of multiparty elections in more than four decades, despite a voting process marred by violence and disorganization.

In the final days of campaigning over the weekend, at least four people were killed in clashes in the capital, Kinshasa, and five others died in an attack on a voting center in the southeast early Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Additionally, bad weather delayed the delivery of balloting materials to voting sites across the country, leaving some polls in the vast countryside empty-handed on Election Day, the AP reported.

In the tumultuous eastern province of North Kivu, voters stood in line for hours. Many trekked to three or more polling places to find their names on a list before they could vote. Others spent days before the vote at the election commission to obtain new voting cards.

But in the regional capital of Goma on Monday, businesses were closed and many voters said the prospect of change was worth the inconveniences - even as they argued with police and poll workers for a faster process.

Jean-Claude Shuma, an engineer, said Congo - reeling from poverty, war, disease and widespread sexual violence - needs political change above all else.

“We are here to vote because we need a president who can lead this country,” he said. “Our parents had no work and we have no work.”

The contest pits incumbent President Joseph Kabila against 10 other candidates and calls for the selection of 500 parliament members, out of nearly 20,000 vying to represent Congo’s 72 million people.

With a divided opposition and a nation in fear of a return to all-out war, Mr. Kabila is favored to win. But at the polls in Goma, many said the opposition candidates still have a chance.

Vital Kamerhe is one of Mr. Kabila’s two strongest opponents. A former presidential ally, Mr. Kamerhe is an eastern native and a particular favorite in Goma.

At Mr. Kamerhe’s local campaign headquarters, Regional Secretary Bienfait Bishikwabo said Kamerhe supporters will declare the election rigged and will riot if he loses.

“The people want change,” Mr. Bishikwabo said. “They will rise up. They will break things and block roads.”

Meanwhile, Etienne Tshisekedi, who is likely Mr. Kabila’s most formidable opponent, already has declared himself the winner of the presidential contest on Congolese radio.

Over the weekend, clashes broke out between political parties in a neighborhood where a Kabila event and a Tshisekedi rally were to be held. Police blocked Mr. Tshisekedi’s entourage from attending the rally, and Mr. Kabila’s event was canceled.

Amid the chaos leading up to the elections, international observers asked for the vote to be delayed to curb violence and to give the electoral commission a chance to deliver ballots. Much of Congo’s countryside is accessible only by planes, usually flown by U.N. peacekeepers.

But at Mr. Kabila’s Goma headquarters, regional campaign chief Cyrille Muhongya said the president’s mandate expires Dec. 6, the day the results will be announced, and the election could not have been delayed.

“If there are objections to the results, the laws are clear,” he said. “Anyone with problems can go to the courts.”



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