Kinshasa, Congo — Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo are due to go to the polls again Thursday, in a general election marked by severe logistical troubles that meant some polling stations never opened.
The impoverished but mineral-rich central African nation staged four concurrent elections on Wednesday — to pick a president, national and regional lawmakers as well as local councilors.
President Felix Tshisekedi, 60, is running for a second term in office against a backdrop of years of economic growth but little job creation and soaring inflation.
But the vote on Wednesday was marked by massive delays nationwide, with the electoral commission still attempting to deliver materials to voting stations long after polls were meant to have opened.
In some cases, polls never opened, leaving people unable to cast ballots.
Denis Kadima, the head of the electoral commission, declared on national television on Wednesday night that places unable to vote that day would vote on Thursday.
But details about the extension remain unclear. Nor is it clear how much of the country is affected.
Kadima also told reporters that “not less than 70%” of electors had been able to vote, but he stressed that this was an estimate.
Five opposition presidential candidates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including prominent figures Martin Fayulu and Denis Mukwege, rejected the extension on Wednesday night on the grounds that it was illegal.
In a joint statement, they called for fresh elections.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its vast reserves of copper, cobalt and gold.
Around 44 million Congolese, in a nation of 100 million, are registered to vote. And more than 100,000 candidates are running for various positions.
Results are not expected for several days.
There had long been concerns that preparations for the vote were lacking, and the election authorities sought to play them down — although they proved valid Wednesday.
Staging elections in a country roughly the size of continental western Europe, with very few roads, poses a daunting logistical challenge.
By Wednesday afternoon, an influential election observer mission by a union of Congolese Catholic and Protestant churches indicated the scale of the voting problems.
Nearly a third of polling booths in the country had not opened, the observers said, and about 45% of voting machines suffered technical problems.
There was little sympathy from leading opposition politicians, who described the process as chaotic.
The main leading opposition candidates — gynecologist Mukwege, 68, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; 58-year-old business magnate and ex-provincial governor Moise Katumbi; and 67-year-old ex-oil executive Fayulu — all complained of irregularities.
Tshisekedi, who took office in 2019 and faces 18 challengers, says he wants a second term to “consolidate his gains.”
He’s considered the frontrunner in the single-round presidential vote, although his record, as he himself has acknowledged, is mixed.
Throughout the campaign, Tshisekedi also poured scorn on what he termed “foreign candidates,” suggesting that his opponents had dual loyalties and lacked the will to stand up to Rwanda, which the DRC accuses of funding rebel groups on its soil.
Katumbi, a former governor of mineral-rich Katanga province and chairman of the country’s leading football club, Tout Puissant Mazembe, was the main target of such attacks.
Armed conflict in eastern DRC also overshadowed much of the electoral campaign.
Militias have plagued the troubled region for decades, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s.
Tensions have ratcheted up further since the M23 group began capturing swathes of territory in late 2021.
Rwanda has been accused of supporting the rebels, which Kigali denies.
Clashes with M23 fighters have subsided in recent weeks but they continue to hold sway over large parts of North Kivu province, where voting was impossible.
In the eastern city of Goma, Desire Abedi Mubwana, 28, said: “There’s the war, there’s a lack of jobs, young people are really being neglected, forgotten.
“But we’re here to vote in the right leaders who will still think about young people and who will also think about the security of our region.”