Fighting in the DRC will prevent more than a million from voting in election - rights group

-The International Crisis Group says more than a million people will fail to vote in the DRC because of conflict in the east.

-The Independent National Electoral Commission`s credibility is in question.

-The African Union and international actors were urged to work closely to help the DRC hold credible elections.

More than a million people have been disenfranchised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) some two months before the general elections, the International Crisis Group (ICG) claims.

This was due to fighting mostly in the eastern part of the country, in North Kivu and surrounding areas, where rebel groups are concentrated, the rights group said.

`Fighting in the east and other areas has left more than a million citizens without voter cards,` said the ICG in its latest report titled `Elections in DR Congo: Limiting the Risk of Violence`.

President Felix Tshisekedi will be seeking a second and last constitutional term in the December poll. He will probably face challenges from 23 other candidates whose names are before the Independent National Electoral Commission, also known by its French name, Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI).

In the coming weeks, the CENI is expected to vet the candidates and come up with a final list.

The ICG said there were concerns that the results would be contested because of an uneven electoral playing field.

`The opposition, faced with increased government repression and a National Independent Electoral Commission that they see as biased in favour of the ruling party, is tempted to reject each step,` the report says.

Onesphore Sematumba, ICG analyst for the DRC and Burundi, said international partners, as well as the African Union (AU), should work with political stakeholders in the DRC to avoid bloodshed in the event of disputed results.

He said: 

International actors, starting with African powers influential in Kinshasa, as well as Western actors, should encourage the government and opposition to find compromises on contentious issues and stand ready to offer mediation if the results are contested.

Learning from the election of 2018 that ushered Tshisekedi into office, the ICG said there was already a high rate of `localised violence`, intimidation of some candidates, and chances of manipulation on the part of CENI.

If the electoral body was not adequately funded, there would be room for corruption.

Richard Moncrieff, the ICG`s acting director of the Great Lakes Project, said the CENI has a central role to play in bringing together political parties to discuss the country`s preparedness for the polls. 

`It is imperative that the Independent National Electoral Commission maintain a high level of transparency to facilitate discussions between the political parties on the possibility of a postponement, if necessary,` he said.

Some of the suggestions tabled by ICG to help the DRC move towards more transparent, credible, and violence-free elections are:

In order to allay concerns about impartiality, the government should bolster trust in the security forces by guaranteeing a regional balance in the present recruitment exercise.

After the state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri was partially lifted, authorities in these regions need to be especially watchful to guarantee that political liberties are respected during the election season.

All parties must be able to run for office if the government is to maintain control of its security services.

Restrictions on political gatherings should be minimised, and party leaders should urge their followers to refrain from using violence in demonstrations.

In December 2005, after a constitutional referendum, multi-party elections returned to the DRC after 46 years.

The elections held in July 2006 saw Joseph Kabila elected after running the country since the death of his father Laurent Kabila in 2001.

Kabila was re-elected in 2011, and his term ended in 2016, but was extended by two years due to the ongoing conflict in the eastern parts of the country.

In 2018, Kabila was not on the ballot as Tshisekedi earned his first presidential term, although there were concerns of potential electoral fraud.

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