Congo’s electoral commission president says a national election, originally scheduled for November this year, will likely take place at the end of 2018 — a two-year delay likely to cause more unrest in the tense central African nation.
The announcement came amid opposition fears that President Joseph Kabila will not step down when his term expires in December.
“Voters will be called to the polls for the presidential and provincial and national legislative elections simultaneously in November 2017,” electoral commission chief Corneile Naanga told reporters.
“That is when the candidacies will be submitted,” Naanga said after making the proposal before participants in a so-called national dialogue aimed at ending a tense political standoff in the vast, resource-rich nation.
Naanga told participants in the dialogue that the commission would require “504 days starting from July 31, 2017” to deal with a string of challenges in its bid to organise the presidential and legislative votes.
Electoral authorities would need time, Naanga said, to distribute voting material and to deploy the staff to 136,000 voting offices.
President Joseph Kabila’s political future has been a source of tension. His mandate was supposed to end in December. Opposition leaders accuse him of delaying elections to keep power.
The opposition however swiftly hit back, with spokesman Jean Lucien Bussa saying the electoral commission “must heed the instructions delivered by (participants in) the dialogue, and not do what it wants.”
Catholic Church leaders, who suspended their participation in the dialogue after the September clashes, also criticised the electoral commission’s move.
“We can finish everything in a year and quickly hold the presidential election, such a projection is just unnecessary,” Abbot Donatien Nshole said.
Naanga however said the electoral commission’s job was to announce the electoral calendar.
Saturday’s statement, Naanga said, was by no means meant to be a decision, but rather was to act as a “guideline.”
A wave of deadly clashes pitting police against demonstrators hit the Democratic Republic of Congo in September, as the opposition demanded Kabila’s resignation.
The US Treasury has since placed two of Kabila’s top allies on its sanctions blacklist, tying both to rising political violence and human rights violations.
A high court has said Kabila can stay in office until a new leader is elected.