|Initial DRC Elections Statement|
Goma, 29th November 2011
To help bring international awareness to the November 28th elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ECI leadership traveled to the region to witness the process and hear from the National Election Commission, election observers, youth, women, and independent media.
The Congolese people went to the polls yesterday to elect a new president and a new parliament. Early indications are that the turn out
was generally high with polling booths remaining open long after the official closing time of 5 pm. Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) witnessed a high level of participation in the voting and celebrates along with the Congolese electorate as they nobly exercise their mandate to democratically elect their leaders at the local and national levels. We also recognize that in spite of great odds, voting day was largely peaceful in the East of the country.
The elections should be considered an achievement given the vast size of Congo, and the almost insurmountable constraints of terrain and climate. In many of Congo's remotest corners, people were able to vote on time with the necessary resources. The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) has achieved a striking feat, implementing a nationally organized election with limited support from the international community.
ECI celebrates the large-scale and rigorous task of observation carried out by an extraordinary number of Congolese, African and other international observers. Well-trained short- and long-term observers have proved invaluable in producing key documentation of the 2011 elections.
We are encouraged by the proactive and peaceful behavior of the voters in the process. However, ECI is concerned that throughout the country the voting process was compromised by allegations of fraud, targeted violence and a simple lack of capacity of CENI to implement elections that could be considered accessible, free and fair to the entire electorate.
Represented by ECI CEO Whitney Williams and Founding Member Cindy McCain, ECI witnessed first-hand in North Kivu province that many women were prevented or hindered from going to the polls. In a country where half of all women cannot read or write, the Electoral Commission and civil society have regrettably neglected the need to assist illiterate people in gaining access to the polls. In nearly all of the polling stations we visited yesterday, especially in rural districts, many women were clearly confused as they attempted to vote. In some places they were not aware they could be supported by a literate assistant, and many reported that they left the polling stations unable to vote. In some cases, they reported being encouraged to leave the polls but did not, instead staying for many hours hoping for the chance to cast their vote. Unfortunately, this shows that CENI did not adequately communicate the rights to illiterate voters and did not have the resources onsite to support the volume of voters with such needs.
We encourage the Congolese and international observation missions to investigate if there have been any organized efforts to disenfranchise women and illiterate voters during the 2011 elections.
ECI witnessed that CENI struggled to communicate key directives to its polling officers. It has been reported across the country that the names of many voters were omitted from the electoral rolls, effectively
disenfranchising eligible voters. This was despite instruction from CENI that they could vote regardless of the published electoral roll. This message was not communicated to many polling stations and people were turned away. In Butembo, for example, we learned that approximately 2,000 voters were turned away because their names were not on the electoral rolls.
As the Congolese people wait for the results of their election, it is time to consider what happens next. Fears of post-election violence are legitimate and ECI urges the political parties to accept the choice of the Congolese electorate, and calls on all parties to refrain from the use of violence to resolve political conflict.
ECI believes in Congolese solutions for Congolese challenges. The election is an important process, but now is the time for the international community to look beyond the election to support the building of strong, transparent, and democratic political parties and institutions in Congo. Whoever wins, the next DRC government will need the support of the international community as it takes the next pivotal democratic step, holding local elections in the spring. This elections process has shown that the Congolese people want their voices heard and that there is an overwhelming desire for good governance, security, economic opportunity, and social development.
In the face of so much adversity, DRC can seize this moment and move forward with creating a more secure future, a more equitable economy and an opportunity for its people to enjoy peace and prosperity. It is in the interest of all of us to support the Congo to realize these goals. People are hungry for change and exhausted by conflict.