KINSHASA, Congo — Delays and confusion were reported across Congo on Sunday, marring the presidential election the country hoped would be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
Nearly 50 polling stations in the capital, Kinshasa, were idle for hours because lists of registered voters had not been delivered, electoral commission chief Corneille Nangaa told The Associated Press. The sprawling city is an opposition stronghold.
He brought some of the lists to polling stations himself, amid angry shouts of “We wanted to vote!” from people waiting in long lines. Others, discouraged, walked away. Dozens of young men decided to practice voting, piling ballots in a basket. Once lists were delivered, crowds rushed to vote.
Observer groups reported several other problems across this vast Central African nation, which had waited more than two years for the long-delayed vote.
Polling stations were moved at the last minute, voters’ lists were missing and a number of the new, largely unfamiliar voting machines in every province were not working, said Luc Lutala, spokesman for the Symotel civic group, which deployed 19,000 observers.
“We knew there would be issues, but this is way beyond what we expected,” Lutala said.
At stake is a country rich in minerals including those crucial to the world’s smartphones and electric cars, and yet Congo remains desperately underdeveloped with widespread corruption and insecurity.
Election unrest had been feared after a last-minute decision to bar an estimated 1 million people from voting because of a deadly Ebola virus outbreak in the east. The decision has been widely criticized as threatening the credibility of the election and putting health workers in danger as people protest.
Voting in the Ebola-affected cities of Beni and Butembo was delayed until March, long after Congo’s new leader will be inaugurated in January.
On Sunday, well over 10,000 people lined up in Beni to stage their own election , vowing to deliver the results to the electoral commission. People cast paper ballots and many sang in Swahili, “Voting is our right and nobody can stop us.”
They washed their hands before voting as a protection against Ebola, which is spread via infected bodily fluids. “We do not have Ebola. Kabila is worse than Ebola,” said Jacob Salamu, 24, who was voting for the first time.
Three main candidates were vying to succeed Kabila.
Opposition candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi were challenging Kabila’s preferred successor, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. He is under European Union sanctions for a crackdown on people protesting the delay of the election, which was meant to take place in late 2016
Election day in the capital began with a heavy rainstorm that flooded some streets. Kabila and Shadary voted together.
“My message today to my compatriots is to come and vote for their candidates and brave the rain,” Kabila said. Shadary called for “peace and calm,” adding that “I am very confident in victory.”
Fayulu, considered the leading candidate, later voted at the same polling station.
“Today we are writing the end of Kabila, the end of misery for Congolese people,” he said. “Congo will stop being the laughingstock of the world.”
Although electoral officials had estimated that people could vote in under a minute, the process was taking several minutes per person, causing concern.
Congo’s 40 million registered voters are using electronic voting machines with touch screens for the first time amid opposition concerns that the results could be manipulated.
In Kinshasa, one polling official worried that the machines would run out of battery power.
Frustration grew. “We came to vote and there is nothing. May Kabila go to hell,” voter Elvis Bolungu said.
Associated Press writer Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro contributed from Beni.
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