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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government has said that presidential elections due to be held in November 2016 will be delayed by up to four years, saying the country is not prepared to head to the polls. Despite always maintaining that the two-term limit set by the constitution would be respected, the announcement seemingly confirms President Joseph Kabila's intentions to cling to power using any means necessary.
A spokesman for the ruling coalition said that a national census and revision to voter rolls must first take place to guarantee the credibility of the vote. Kabila has been accused of using a number of tactics, including an unrealistic election calendar and deferring the disbursement of funds to the country's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to stay in office beyond the end of his mandate.
The issue of presidential third terms in Africa is highly prevalent, with Burundi and Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) being plagued by violence over the issue. Indeed dozens of people died in the DRC during anti-Kabila protests that turned violent in January, and the latest attempts to subjugate the political will of the masses is likely to stoke tensions further. Government officials have also been accused by human rights campaigners of hiring thugs to violently attack peaceful anti-Kabila demonstrators with clubs and sticks in September in return for $65 (£43, €58). Free and fair elections in November 2016, followed by a peaceful transition of power would mark an historic first for the Central African nation.
"We need to say the truth to the Congolese people that, in the current conditions, we are not able to organise the elections. So, the people must grant us two to four years," coalition spokesman Andre Alain Atundu told reporters in the mineral-rich Lubumbashi province. Kabila has not commented publicly so far, but his Information Minister Lambert Mende has always insisted that the president will respect the constitutional limit. The continent's largest copper producer had previously planned to hold a string of elections over the next year (local, provincial and parliamentary polls), which would culminate in a presidential vote.
A need for open and transparent elections
In September Moise Katumbi, the former governor of the powerful Lubumbashi province resigned from Kabila's People's Party for Reconstruction and Development in protest at the president's undemocratic attempts to prolong his tenure. Following the news that elections would be delayed, Katumbi said: "The ruling coalition's call to delay national elections is troubling but unfortunately not surprising. The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have spoken through their Constitution that they do not want a president for life – and that they want presidents to be limited to no more than two five-year terms. More than that, the Congolese people want regular, free, fair, and transparent elections - and that should start with a national election in the fall of 2016.
"In order for democracy to flourish in the DRC we must demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we are able to achieve a peaceful and lawful transition of power," Katumbi added.
Earlier this month, the UN warned that election-related violence could erupt again and reverse any progress that has been achieved so far. "The political situation in the DRC is increasingly marked by the electoral process [and] political tensions are running high ahead of the 2016 presidential and legislative polls," said Martin Kobler, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country.
"The conduct of peaceful, timely and credible elections in November 2016 would send a clear message to the world that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a nation that respects its Constitution, a nation keen on a peaceful transition of power, a nation that will consolidate peace," Kobler added.
Battle for control of the DRC
Check out our Flipboard magazine - Who's who in the battle for DRC by IBTimes UK
In this series on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, IBTimes UK takes a closer look at the eastern regions of South and North Kivu where civilians are still at the mercy of armed groups and the Congolese armed forces, who have all been accused of committing serious war crimes.