After Violent Campaign, Congo Voters Cast Ballots

The Democratic Republic of Congo holds elections for president and parliament Monday. These are the second elections since a long dictatorship ended in 1997. Elections held in 2006 represented a transition to democracy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is a day for democracy, however imperfect, in two key African nations. We're following elections for parliament today, in Egypt. And observers say the voting has gone forward, today, despite days of protest and violence preceding the vote.

And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, voters chose a president and lawmakers today, after a tense and sometimes violent campaign. These are the second democratic elections in this vast nation's turbulent half century of independence, and they come after back to back civil wars. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the capital city, Kinshasa.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The stakes are high and the challenges, great. Congo, which lies in the heart of Africa, is rich in minerals, which continue to fuel conflict in the east. But most people in this country are poor.

President Joseph Kabila, in power for the past decade, is seeking re-election. His ten presidential rivals are determined to unseat him. They accuse Kabila of presiding over a period of rampant corruption, after years of dictatorship and rebellion in Congo. But a constitutional change has led to a much-contested one round, first-past-the post presidential vote. Many voters, like teacher Maman Charlotte, are disillusioned.

MAMAN CHARLOTTE: I see no one to vote, because there is no change in Congo. I don't see whom can I vote. As a teacher, they refuse to pay us well. That is why we need a change.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY AND SINGING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

QUIST-ARCTON: Campaign rallies were often rowdy and sometimes deadly. At the weekend here in Kinshasa, the presidential candidates were asked to cancel their final rallies, after clashes between rival political party supporters. At least one person was killed in the violence.

Organizing these elections has been a trial. Logistics are tough in a huge country with few paved roads. Election material had to be delivered by river, helicopter, and piled on the heads of porters walking to their destinations – and there have been allegations of disorganization and cheating.

PASTOR DANIEL NGOY MULUNDA: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Pastor Daniel Ngoy Mulunda is the head of Congo's Independent Electoral Commission. He denies the accusations of vote-rigging.

MULUNDA: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Mulunda says he's confident about the election and appealed for restraint and a calm, peaceful, and fraud-free vote. Congo is emerging from almost a decade of war that engulfed this nation and drew in neighboring countries. Insecurity and conflict have persisted in the volatile east.

It's known as the rape capital of the world, where sexual violence continues to be used as a weapon of war. Kabila says judge me on my record of bringing peace and development. His main and outspoken opponent is the veteran opposition leader, 78-year-old, Etienne Tshisekedi.

ETIENNE TSHISEKEDI: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: We are democrats, says Tshisekedi, adding that he will concede defeat if he loses in a free and fair vote. But he warns that if there's evidence the process is not transparent, then it's up to the people to decide what to do - an ominous threat of more violence, which undermined the run-up to Congo's elections.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa.

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