DR Congo Votes In Long-Delayed Election
DON GONYEA, HOST:
Polls have closed in Democratic Republic of Congo, where voters lined up for hours today despite floods, missing voter rolls and faulty voting machines to pick a successor to longtime President Joseph Kabila. These elections have already been delayed several times over two years. Kabila has served as a caretaker president since 2016, the constitutionally mandated end of his term. Congo has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. And today, an argument over alleged voting fraud led to the reported deaths of a police officer and a civilian at one polling place. NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following the election from the capital, Kinshasa. She joins us now.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings from Kinshasa.
GONYEA: You spoke to President Kabila earlier this month, and at that time, he claimed today's election would be, quote, "perfect." You've been at polling places all day. Tell us about what you've seen.
QUIST-ARCTON: Not perfect. And the other word that President Kabila used at NPR was he wanted a flawless election. I'm afraid this is not a flawless election. It really depends where you were in the capital and where you were in the country. There was some fairly smooth voting here in Kinshasa at the polling station. But even there, voting was meant to start at 6:00 in the morning. They were not underway until 7:30. But, in other parts of the city, absolute chaos. For a start, there weren't voters' lists. The voting machines being used for the first time - either they were broken down or they jammed. There were a lot of frustrated Congolese, but a lot of Congolese determined to vote.
GONYEA: We mentioned the delays in actually holding these elections. But I understand there are still three areas in DRC that are not voting today.
QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed - two towns in eastern Congo, Beni and Butembo, at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Now, the election commission and President Kabila agreed with them, said that it would be too dangerous. And in western Congo, in a town called Yumbi, there's been communal fighting, so the electoral authority said also no voting there. People feel that they have been robbed of their vote. They've been waiting for so long to elect their new president, and now they can't do that.
GONYEA: We need to talk about the candidates. It's a crowded field - 21 people running for president. The polls have closed. Now, do you have any sense of who might be in the lead?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, 21 candidates but really three frontrunners. Kabila's chosen presidential candidate of the governing coalition, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary - after he voted, he said that he felt that triumph was on his side. We also have two leading opposition presidential contenders. We have Felix Tshisekedi, the son of really Congo's historic opposition leader, the late Etienne Tshisekedi, and also Martin Fayulu. Final results need to be in by the 10 of January, but we should see early returns in the next few days.
GONYEA: So you talk about the frustration, but you also talk about the determination people have to vote. I'm wondering, are people optimistic at all that this election will bring change to DRC?
QUIST-ARCTON: Congolese are really holding their collective breath because, of course, it's not just voting day that is important here. Everybody is saying we need a peaceful transfer of power. We'll have to see.
GONYEA: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Kinshasa.
Ofeibea, thank you.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
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