HAVING NEVER experienced a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960, Congo is in a precarious position. The Dec. 30 election, while not conducted in perfect conditions after two years of postponement and uncertainty, nevertheless took place to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, a testament to the determination of millions of voters. Their patience is being tested anew by delays in counting the votes . The election — and Congo’s fragile steps toward a democratic transition — must not be lost.
The electoral commission was supposed to have counted the vote by Sunday but announced that it had only about half the ballots tallied. The head of the commission said: “We ask the nation to remain patient for the time it will take to consolidate all our data.” But there are ample and disturbing suspicions that Mr. Kabila’s forces are struggling to rig the election for his hand-picked candidate, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who lacked popularity but is a loyal puppet of Mr. Kabila.
The conditions before, during and after the vote were chaotic. In advance, voting was postponed in three cities, all opposition strongholds, ostensibly because of concerns in two of them about an ongoing Ebola outbreak and about ethnic unrest in the third — so those 1.2 million voters out of the country’s approximately 40 million were disenfranchised at the start. Then came what Human Rights Watch described as “rampant election-day obstacles” to voting, including problems with voting lists, polling places, armed coercion and malfunctions in the electronic voting machines, which had never before been used in the country. The day after the vote, Dec. 31, the government shut down Internet and text messaging nationwide, a tactic it has used before to control information. It cut the signal of at least two televison broadcasters and withdrew the accreditation of a French correspondent.