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Congolese Vote Marred by Violence, Allegations of Fraud

Confused voters look for their names on registration lists at a polling station in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, November 28, 2011

Voting in the Democratic Republic of Congo was marred by violence Monday, allegations of fraud, and failures to deliver ballots.

Unidentified gunmen attacked a polling station in the southern city of Lubumbashi early Monday, killing two policemen and burning ballots. Reports from the Katanga Province capital say at least three of those attackers have been arrested. Many polling stations in Lubumbashi failed to open, in part because of an earlier attack on vehicles carrying voting materials.

U.N. Special Representative to Congo Roger Meece says Congolese authorities are addressing the insecurity surrounding this presidential and legislative balloting.

"I would reiterate a call on all authorities, voters themselves, political leaders to do all possible to ensure a peaceful day so that the Congolese people have the right to vote in security,” said Meece.

In a communique late Monday, the electoral commission deplored “incidents of violence that occurred in certain polling stations and cities and communities across the Republic.”

Electoral commission spokesman Matthieu Mpita says polling places that finished with voting should forward results to counting stations as normal. He says people who are in line at polling places when the time to vote closes should be allowed to cast their ballots.

Mpita says people at polling places that ran out of ballots should stay calm and await further instructions. Voters at polling places where ballots never arrived should wait for those materials to be delivered.

Monday's attacks are the latest violence associated with elections in this Central African nation. On Saturday, at least three people were killed when riot police fired bullets and tear gas at supporters of the leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi.

DRC pposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi speaks to the media, November 26, 2011
DRC pposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi speaks to the media, November 26, 2011

Mr. Tshisekedi proclaimed himself president before the vote and said his supporters will, in his words, “take their responsibilities” if they do not believe this election is fair.

Another opposition candidate, Vital Kamerhe, charged electoral fraud, with fake polling stations meant to fool voters and ballots that have been marked for President Joseph Kabila in advance.

Electoral commission president Daniel Ngoy-Mulunda says those allegations have been investigated and have no merit.

Ngoy-Mulunda is calling for the Congolese people to go and vote as that is their right. He says there are no fictitious polling stations or pre-marked ballots. He says the electoral commission has organized a vote that is credible, dignified and transparent.

In a nationwide address late Sunday, President Kabila said the country must take care not to go back to war and conflict.

He came to power after the 2001 assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, who led the rebellion against dictator Mobutu Sese Seko when this country was called Zaire.

President Kabila's 2006 run-off election against former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba led to heavy fighting in the capital that killed more than 100 people.

There is no run-off this time, so whoever gets the most votes wins.

Electoral observer David Pottie from the U.S.-based Carter Center says that makes the presidential winner's ability to work with lawmakers even more crucial to his success.

"The importance of the presidential election needs to be understood in the context of the equal importance of the legislative election, precisely because of this first-past-the-post system that has now been adopted for the presidential," asid Pottie. "Any winning president facing the really likely prospect of having won the presidency with less than 50 percent of the vote and an extremely diverse parliament.”

Voters wait for election material to arrive at a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, November 28, 2011
Voters wait for election material to arrive at a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, November 28, 2011

Voters came out early in the capital Monday, as most polling stations in the city opened on time. At the Complexe Scolaire Bienheureuse Anuarite in Kinshasa's Gombe neighborhood, each classroom is a separate polling station with yellow-topped boxes for legislative ballots and blue-topped boxes for presidential votes.

The legislative ballots here look like small newspapers - 48 pages of names and photographs of some of the more than 18,000 candidates running for the national assembly. The presidential ballots are far simpler - a single sheet with 11 candidates.

Sylvie Lusamba Tengo voted for the longtime opposition leader, Mr. Tshisekedi.

Tengo says Mr. Tshisekedi is the best choice for Congo because she believes he will follow through on his campaign promise to put the people first. When the needs of the people are put before the needs of their leaders, Tengo says the quality of life for everyone will improve.

Rufin Kasongo supports President Kabila. He says the problem in Congo is not about changing the president every time. It is about ending the country's isolation and developing its resources. Kasongo says President Kabila will improve the supply of electricity and strengthen Congo's infrastructure.

The electoral commission says it will release final vote results before President Kabila's current mandate expires December 6.

Photo Gallery: DRC Elections