DRC anti-Kabila protest
Protesters run after soldiers open fire in January 2015 to disperse a crowd of demonstrators calling on Kabila to step down after his second term expires Getty

The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo's electoral commission has resigned unexpectedly. The move was announced by the presidency on television, adding to fears that credible elections in November 2016 will be postponed, allowing President Joseph Kabila to prolong his 14-year rule.

Abbott Apollinaire Malu-Malu stepped down as chief of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Ceni). He was in charge of the organisation during a presidential poll won by Kabila in 2006. In the televised address on 10 October, the head of Kabila's press office, Jacques Mukaleng Makal, said: "The president of the Republic informs national and international opinion of the resignation of Father Apollinaire Malu-Malu... for health reasons."

In recent months, the president has seen his support wane from inside his own camp. Earlier in October, the influential and powerful governor of the mineral-rich Katanga province resigned from the country's ruling faction, the People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). Moise Katumbi denounced Kabila for seeking to extend his tenure to a third term, which is prohibited by the DRC's constitution.

"As we enter the final stretch of the president of the Republic's last constitutional mandate, facts show that for the last year, everything seems to have been done to bypass the constitution, with delays, vagueness and illegibility of the electoral cycle and a strategy of shift of the election dates," Katumbi said.

Kabila's apparent attempts to hold on to power have sparked angry protests in the country and members of the G7 (a group of political parties that made up part of the president's coalition) have defected to the opposition. Former planning minister Olivier Kamitatu described Malu-Malu's resignation as "a new stroke of lightening in [the DRC's] political landscape".

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the violent attempts by senior security and ruling party officials to silence demonstrations against Kabila "shows the ugly depths to which the authorities are willing to go to block opposition protests".

September saw brutal beatings being unleashed on demonstrators calling on Kabila to step down and several of the attackers claimed they were hired by the PPRD and paid $65 (£42) each. They had even been called to a meeting at a military camp the night before and "given instructions on how to conduct the attack", HRW reported.

Information Minister Lambert Mende has repeatedly stated that Kabila will respect the two-term limit set by the constitution but the president is yet to comment publicly on the matter.