Polling stations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo opened on Sunday for a presidential election that could lead to the country’s first democratic transfer of power but has been marred by campaign violence and chaotic preparations.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is due to step down after the vote in a milestone for a country plagued by authoritarian rule, coups and civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960.
A Reuters witness in the eastern city of Goma said polls opened at 6am. Due to the time difference, voting is scheduled to start an hour later in western parts of the country. The last polls close at 5pm, although voting will continue for those still in line.
Kabila’s agreement to stick to constitutional term limits should represent progress for the mineral-rich central African country.
Critics, however, say the vote will be tarnished by fraud, and that Kabila could continue to rule from the sidelines. He has not ruled out running again for president in 2023.
Despite repeated delays to the election, which was originally meant to take place in 2016, diplomats and poll observers say authorities are ill-prepared, raising fears of a repeat of the violence that followed elections in 2006 and 2011.