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Election Observers in DRC Comment on Preparations for Sunday's Run-Off Vote


Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo are making final preparations before Sunday's presidential run-off election. Thousands of observers have deployed across the country to monitor the vote.

Observers say the first round of Congo's presidential elections on July 30 were mostly orderly, but that they were marred by administrative irregularities and by violence afterward in some parts of the country.

President Joseph Kabila won 44 percent of the vote, and, on Sunday, will face runner-up candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba, who polled 20 percent.

The coordinator of the Carter Center's observer team in the country, Colin Stewart, says that during the first round of the elections, his team identified a number of weaknesses.

"The Electoral Commission addressed all of those issues, in our view, quite comprehensively," he said. "What remains to be seen is how thoroughly these new procedures can be implemented on the ground."

Stewart worries that a lack of infrastructure in the country has made it difficult to disseminate information on the new procedures in time.

He adds that mistrust between the two candidates, which was aggravated by the clashes in August that left several dozen dead in Kinshasa, is creating tension.

The northeastern Ituri region, bordering Uganda, continues to experience violence between militias and Congolese troops that has killed an estimated 60,000 people and displaced 200,000 more.

The regional coordinator for the Justice-Plus observer group there, Joel Bisubu, says that the mood now is much calmer than during the first round.

He says, however, that, unlike the first round, there are no rallies, no debates and few impromptu gatherings in front of the candidates' headquarters. He says this campaign is mostly one of posters, T-shirts and hats.

But he says people say they are determined to vote. He hopes the process will be orderly.

In southeastern Katanga Province, the regional coordinator of the MOPI observer group, Jean-Didier Kabongo, says, as he watches a rally in the provincial capital of Lubumbashi, that the campaigning there is lively.

He says some party militants have torn down campaign posters, and have disrupted the rallies of rival candidates. But he says his group is working hard to educate the populace to campaign peacefully and accept the results of the polling.

The southern province of Eastern Kasai is a bastion of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who boycotted the election. As a result, voter turnout in this region was low, and several polling stations were attacked. But the regional coordinator for MOPI there, Elie Kasongo, reports from the provincial capital of Mbuji-Mayi that the situation has changed.

He says, this time, the campaign is heated, with rallies of cars and motorcycles, but there has been no violence. And, he says, everyone, young and old, says they intend to vote.

Stewart of the Carter Center observer group remains hopeful going into the run-off. He says, despite problems during the first round, the fact that they were minor has boosted confidence in the electoral process.

"The population now is taking this process seriously, and is investing in the process as a way of choosing their leaders," he noted. "On the other hand, given the political tension, there is a lot of apprehension amongst the population."

He says that if the Electoral Commission is able to implement the proposed reforms, it will produce a well-run election. Then, the only remaining concern will be whether the results are accepted by all.