International observers cite Congo poll concerns


International observers raised concerns over Congo’s elections, citing opaque procedures at the top court for handling allegations of irregularities and calling for all candidates to have equal access to local media.

Presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled in the central African state for Monday have been marred by pre-electoral violence, logistical delays and allegations by rivals that incumbent President Joseph Kabila has an unfair advantage.

The European Union said there was a lack of transparency in how the Supreme Court – the body that will ultimately have to ratify the results – was handling complaints over the organisation of the election, Reuters reports.
“Citizens and election observers alike need to be aware of all the decrees relating to the electoral dispute, which is unfortunately not the case for the time being,” it said in a statement.

U.S.-based Carter Center also called on the court to publish its decisions on official complaints relating to the nomination of candidates in the two polls, which Congo is seeking to run side by side next week.
“The publication of these decisions immediately after the complaints period would enhance the confidence of the public and political actors in their judicial system,” it said.

No comment was immediately available from the Supreme Court or the government in Kinshasa.

The presidential election is the second since a 1998-2003 war in which as many as 5 million people are estimated to have died. Congo still faces simmering conflicts with rebels in its east despite a formal peace accord eight years ago.

Kabila has said he is confident of winning the vote, which following rule changes this year will be a single-round poll – meaning he can claim victory without an absolute majority.

Rivals of Kabila have complained his campaign has benefited from public resources and preferential access to media. The United Nations said in a report this month that manipulation of Congo’s security forces had led to a crackdown on opposition parties, an allegation the government has said is unfair.

Henri-Fidele Bomwenga Mbangete, one of the Supreme Court’s longest sitting judges, told Reuters this week the 26-member court had been ordered by presidential decree to hold any deliberation on election complaints in private.

Bomwenga, who said he had been at the court for over 20 years, said that arrangement would be unlawful, pointing to an article of the 2005 constitution requiring all court hearings to be public unless “deemed dangerous to public order or morals”.

Bomwenga also criticised the recent appointment of 17 new judges to court, saying they did not have the necessary qualifications or seniority to sit on the body and raising concerns over their independence.

The president of the judges union also said the judges appeared biased: “When I look at all their profiles, each one has political or tribal relations to political figures within the ruling majority,” Nsambayi Mutenda Lukusa said.

A Supreme Court president, Evariste Prince Funga, denied the allegations.
“The judges have no political leanings… there are rules (that we’ll follow),” he said.