Upcoming presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are viewed by the government as an urgent priority – however, a foreseen vote delay could ignite violence in an already fragile country.

The opposition claims that President Joseph Kabila – who was due to step down in December 2016 – seeks to stay in power beyond his constitutional limit. He blocked elections on the issue of costs and refused to relinquish power.

Kabila appointed new Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala, on 7 April, as stipulated by the 31 December power-sharing deal brokered by the Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO). The opposition and world powers, such as the European Union, rejected his appointment, saying it violated the spirit of the agreement.

While a fringe of the opposition, the Rassemblement (Rally) also rejected the signature of a special arrangement – the logistics for the implementation of the 31 December 2016 accord – Tshibala said he would "mobilise domestic financial resources to fund the elections" scheduled before the end of the year.

However, this comment has moved distrustful voices to tell IBTimes UK why they fear that a delay in elections – planned for December 2017 – could spark widespread violence. The electoral commission (CENI) has already warned it could not enrol all electors in the restive central Kasai region, following clashes between soldiers and local militia Kamuina Nsapu.

Insecurity is 'intentional to delay elections'

Theophile Ngombo, UK representative of UPDS party and president of the Rassemblement (UK), claimed that what is currently happening is Kasai "is intentional", to ensure elections are delayed until a later date.

"But security in the country can only be guaranteed when the Congolese people start trusting the authorities again. This is not the case today. Kabila and the government is playing with a bomb. The people may try to push him in a corner but Congolese will end up winning," Ngombo said.

For the opposition politician, focus should not be on the 2017 elections, but rather on a proper implementation of the power-sharing accord, including the nomination of a new prime minister, formation of a new government and restructuring the CENI.

Not holding poll will result in 'human rights violations'

This view was echoed by lawyer Tshiswaka Masoka Hubert, from the Lubambashi-based Research Institute on Human Rights. "I don't see how this government would and could organise elections in 2017 – all the elements suggest that they won't.

"Only the implementation of the accord between all the parties could have paved the way for elections. Those in power are not respecting the establishment of a transitional government that would manage the country until the elections are held."

The opposition needs to find compromises and Kabila needs to agree to not stand for upcoming elections to ensure stability, Masoka said, adding that "both sides are communicating vessels and feed off each other".

DRC opposition
Opposition supporters wave yellow 'penalty' cards at Joseph Kabila Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

"Unless they both agree to make concessions, the country will continue to sink in crisis, famine and insecurity. The consequence for not holding elections will be a continued violations of human rights, the rise of insurrection movements – akin to those we have witnessed in the Kasai."

At first, the Kamwuina Nsapu was a small group of people claiming local power but it has now grown to five provinces.

"This reminds me of the Banyamulenge, a small group which in 1996 was reclaiming its identity but grew into a rebellion financed by foreign powers and which ended up toppling the regime in Kinshasa," Masoka explained.

"We know the regime today has lost popular support and that is my fear – that these small groups swell into total insecurity across the country. It's a vicious circle, that is maintained to ensure it could turn into a deathly spiral. It must be broken."

'This could spark a civil war'

Bandi Mbubi, the founder of Congo Calling, working to raise awareness of the role of conflict minerals in fuelling the conflict in the DRC, also warned his country "could have a bomb, an implosion" because the people will no longer feel they are represented by politicians.

"This could spark a civil war. The seeds are already here. The Kamwuina Nsampu movement is a revolt against the authority of the state, and this spirit is spreading."

At the same time, Mbubi alleged, it is in the government's interest to cultivate this insecurity, because it wants to continue to control economic resources. "As long as the government does not feel threatened in Kinshasa, in terms of political power, the violence does not matter to them. They are not beholden to the population."

He added: "When he felt that insistence was on holding the elections, he enabled insecurity, or at least not making it subside. Since the start of massacres in Kasai, for instance, he has not raised his voice. Not solving the insecurity issues helps him remain in power. Already, Ceni is saying that – because of insecurity in the Kasai – it can not enrol voters. A large part of the opposition stronghold will be removed."

Elections in 2017 'would take a miracle'

For Michael Tshibangu, a lawyer and president of UK-based Alliance for Development and Democracy in Congo (ADDC), said he believes all conditions are present for a delay in the poll – a lack of money, an economic crisis, a political crisis, insecurity and a lack of support from the international community with preconditions.

"DRC is going through a very serious economic crisis. The security situation in the DRC is deteriorating. The electoral commission postponed the enrolment to the Kasai. It is clear that there will be no elections this year."

Warning how the situation is a "recipe for a disaster", Tshibangu said that holding fair, free and transparent elections in 2017 "would take a miracle".