Deadly violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been reported, a week ahead of Monday’s parliamentary and presidential elections in the troubled African nation.
At least one person has been killed in rallies in the teeming capital city of Kinshasa, where tensions are reportedly at the boiling point.
The election pits incumbent President Joseph Kabila against principal opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi. Supporters of each man have staged rallies that sometimes turned violent enough for police to intercede with tear-gas.
The situation has become so volatile that police have banned any more political rallies before Monday’s vote takes place.
Because of the escalating violence seen in Kinshasa, all public demonstrations and other political meetings are cancelled this Saturday, Governor Andre Kimbuta said in a statement.
This is for a better result of the electoral process.
However, Tshisekedi and his supporters have apparently defied the ban. The Associated Press reported that thousands of his supporters greeted him at the principal airport in Kinshasa.
We are going to Stade des Martyrs [stadium],” he told the crowd. “That's where I'm going to hold my rally.
According to reports, police blocked the car he was travelling in, while other security officials fired into a crowd of opposition supporters.
Another opposition candidate, Vital Kamerhe, told Reuters that four people were killed, including one of his supporters, but these fatalities have not been verified.
Al Jazeera correspondent Yvonne Ndege in Kinshasa, said thousands of supporters had tear gas fired on them, and that the feeling among the opposition is that this is a sign of how popular the opposition are and that Kabila can't win Monday's elections.
In Monday’s mammoth election, a total of 11 candidates are running for president, while more than 18,000 are vying for seats in the 500-member parliament.
Still, worries are spiraling that the election will be scarred by fraud and that Kabila had already rigged a victory. Tshisekedi has claimed that the boss of the national election commission supports Kabila and that he will use ghost polling stations to give the incumbent an inflated vote total.
The last election in Congo five years ago was similarly characterized by street battles and allegations of voter fraud.
Logistics is also a huge problem -- in a country that is two-thirds the size of the entire European Union, Congo will have 60,000 polling stations, many in heavy jungle areas inaccessible by roads. Reportedly, helicopters provided by Angola and South Africa will help to deliver paper ballots to remote voting stations, but there are doubts that all votes will eventually be properly counted.
Tshisekedi has warned he will not accept too long a delay in counting all the votes.
I would agree [to a delay] if that meant a more credible, democratic and transparent process, the opposition leader told French RFI radio.
But one thing is clear: if we say there will be a delay, it is clear that the election commission cannot be led by [electoral boss and alleged Kabila supporter] Daniel Ngoy Mulunda.”
Western agencies, including the UN Security Council, the European Union have expressed their concerns about the violence leading up to the elections and the lack of transparency Congolese polls usually feature.
Human rights groups have already voiced their alarm over the hateful tone of rhetoric coming from each side in this bitterly contested election.
This election in [DR] Congo is the ultimate test. Is [DR] Congo on course to consolidate its fledgling democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, insecurity and violence? Thierry Vircoulon, the he International Crisis Group's Central Africa director said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is also calling for political candidates to cease from using inflammatory language that could incite violence.
Candidates who incite violence could provoke a bloody election campaign, and judicial authorities need to step in to stop it, HRW's senior Africa researcher Anneke van Woudenberg said in a statement.
Paul Nsapu, general secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and chair of the Ligue des Electeurs in the DR Congo, encapsulated the ramifications of the election.
“The international community provides billions of dollars in assistance to DR Congo,” he stated.
“[DR Congo] cannot afford for fraudulent or poorly conducted elections to spark violence and set back development. We have significantly less electoral observers than in 2006. The international community must be strict in monitoring compliance with international standards, and strongly condemn any irregularities. After so many decades of war and plunder, the Congolese people deserve peace and stability – and really need support for that.”