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Democratic Republic of Congo Prepares for Elections with Assistance from IFES

On July 30th, the Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its first democratic elections since 1965. Shortly after the DRC gained independence from Belgium, Patrice Lumumba was elected Prime Minister only to be murdered a year later. His death was followed by a coup, in which Mobutu Sese Seko seized power; he was deposed in 1997. The country has faced political turmoil since, with an unclear path forward. Preparations for the upcoming elections have included significant organization and analysis on the part of the United Nations, as well as the International Foundation of Election Systems (IFES). The Africa Director for IFES Chris Hennemeyer spoke with VOA English to Africa reporter Bill Eagle about the organization’s efforts.

“Without a doubt it’s going to be a very cumbersome process. If you look at the figures, I think there are thirty-three presidential candidates there’s another 9000 candidates for legislative and senatorial elections. So needless to say, the ballot reflects the huge numbers of candidates and it will be one of the more cumbersome ballots that any electorate has been faced with and probably will be painfully difficult for some people to complete. So one of the things that IFES has been doing has been to launch a massive nation wide civic and voter education campaign to explain to people exactly what this ballot means and how best to use it.”

Hennemeyer explained how voters will be able to identify candidates. “There will be photos of the candidates, there will be their names, and there will be their parties as well. So there’s a lot of information on that ballot, and I think in a country where literacy rates are not particularly high, that is not an unusual way to do things. I think that the difficulty in Congo is just with the vast number of candidates.”

He said that the ballots were printed in South Africa for security reasons and had successfully been delivered to Congo. “It’s not unusual for the ballots to be printed in another country. I mean, this is often a process you see where security of the ballot is an issue. Obviously nobody wants counterfeit ballots floating around. So that’s the reason for doing it outside the country.

The director said the United Nations (UN) has been instrumental in forming logistical arrangements. “In terms of getting the ballots out to the polling places, getting ballot boxes, getting stamps and ink and bags in which to seal completed tally forms, that’s one of the roles of the UN, which has manned an enormous logistical effort. Including scores of airplanes, helicopters, hundreds of vehicles and so on to help the Congolese government get the material out to where it needs to go and to bring it back.”

Hennemeyer spoke about security concerns and how both the UN and the Congolese government are preparing for these risks. “One is there’s going to be a pretty vast UN presence, there is already. And that presence includes both civilian and military parts of the country. There’s also a massive UN civilian mission. There’s also something like 900 international observers who are scheduled to hit the ground in Congo to visit polling places in many parts of the country. As well as several thousand Congolese domestic observers, as well as political party members who will be observing the elections. While there will be places where there won’t be much scrutiny because Congo is so vast, I think many of the key places…will have a fair amount of observers present.”

He said it is likely that militias will attempt to destabilize specific regions in order to disrupt the election process.

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