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Special Reports

Tension As Congolese Vote President

Joseph_Kabila_178432689

buy http://compuaprende.com/components/com_community/templates/jomsocial/layouts/email.events.notifyadmin.html.php "sans-serif"; font-size: small; mso-bidi-font-family: Calibri; mso-ansi-language: EN;”>Across the country, http://danielcalvo.com/wp-admin/includes/admin.php an estimated 31 million registered voters are expected to participate in Monday’s legislative and presidential elections. The polls are expected to be the sternest test of President Joseph Kabila since his first election in 2006.

Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege in the capital Kinshasa says “there has been huge logistical challenges for the electoral authorities” and that many polling stations had not even received ballot boxes late last night.

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“We understand … there’re still polling stations that haven’t received all the materials,” she said. “The vote is going on amid allegations of fake voter ID cards; of underage voting. Many of the candidates involved are actually unhappy with the process.”

Voting is scheduled to take place at some 63,000 polling stations as the country selects a new national assembly and president. Some 19,000 candidates are competing for 500 legislative seats, while 11 candidates are vying for the presidency.

In Goma, scores had already started lining up at polling stations on Monday morning in a bid to beat the long queues that are expected. People arrived on foot and on motorbike taxis, even before sunrise.

Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, is home to most of the armed groups still operating in the DRC and was billed as one of the towns to watch for pre-election violence. On Monday morning, however, predictions about the town’s volatility were unfulfilled as voting day began.

The city, once the centre of a devastating war that ended in 2002, has been abuzz with activity since campaign season started a month ago. Goma has demonstrated few signs of the instability that characterised the town for more than a decade.

Kabila’s test

Etienne Senga, 25, arrived here at 5am local time. He said he was hoping elections would be improve security in the city.

Dressed in black jeans and blue shirt, he said he had “come early to beat the crowds”, because during registration, thousands had arrived. Like many other Congolese, he said he is voting for economic opportunity.

Likewise, Mapendo Furaha,24, told Al Jazeera that she arrived at 6am “to vote for a new president”.

Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi cries foul

Residents say that Kabila’s failure to improve Goma, damaged extensively by war, a volcanic eruption and armed groups, has diminished his support in the province.

In 2006, more than 90 per cent from the region voted for him, but locals said voting for Kabila was influenced by events at the time.

“The war had ended and we voted for him to get rid of these armed groups, but they are still here and it’s time to look for an alternative,” a mobile phone shop owner told Al Jazeera.

“It’s time for us to move up a level and Kabila had a chance to deliver, but did not,” he added.

Most complaints about Kabila’s performance revolve around his failure to improve the town and the region’s infrastructure, even though there has been relative peace in the country during his tenure. The consensus in Goma, where the UN’s Stabilisation Mission for the Congo (MONUSCO) has its headquarters, is that the presence of armed groups is symptomatic of the failure of the state to govern effectively.

Ahead of the elections on Monday, Thomas D’Aquin Muiti, the North Kivu chairperson of a civil society group, said Kabila’s failure to strengthen institutions has allowed armed groups to create parallel power structures in parts of the east.

Residents in the east say it’s time for a new authority to continue the work Kabila began.

‘Ready for elections’

Rumours of electoral fraud, including missing names from voter rolls, fake polling centres, and reports of equipment yet to be delivered to electoral offices, have been widespread.

Even so, Cyrille Mibona, an organizer from the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), is adamant that “all is in place” for the election.

“Everything is in place for the elections, though we are investigating a few complaints in some districts to see if they have any merit,” he said.

Mibona said torrential rains across the east had posed a challenge, but added: “We are prepared”.

Despite the optimism, there remains concern that too much was left for the last moment.

Pascal Kambua, a political analyst with Open Society Southern Africa, told Al Jazeera from Kinshasa: “Even if you have all the helicopters in the world, you can’t cover all the areas in a number of days”.

Kambua added that there were a number of unanswered questions after allegations emerged about bogus polling stations.

In response to the allegations, Mibona said: “In these cases, the polling stations were tracked down and wiped off the database”.

Violence threat

The UN has identified some nine to 15 locations as potential hot spots, with sources suggesting that the towns of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale will be particularly monitored for possible violence.

On Saturday, clashes between supporters of the opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi, from the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), and police resulted in the deaths of up to four people. Yet, the violence has had little impact on preparations for the poll in Goma.

As reports filtered out on Saturday of a stand-off at the capital’s airport, Goma’s streets were filled with flat bed trucks blaring music and slogans as they meandered through the streets.

Analysts said Tshisekedi has little support in the east and clashes in the capital did little to win new support in the area.

For many in the east, Vital Kamerhe offers a tangible alternative to Kabila. Kamerhe is from the region and is perceived as a leader who might finally rid the eastern DRC of Rwandan rebels still operating in the forests.

Still, Goma is teeming with Kabila posters, billboards and handouts. His larger-than-life campaign dwarfs the posters of opposition leaders and legislative candidates that hang awkwardly from nearby walls.

Due to the absence of a pre-election poll, both Kabila and Tshisekedi have already claimed victory. In the event that fraud is discovered, these conflicting claims could lead to violence in Kinshasa, even Goma. The UN acknowledged this on Sunday, calling for calm and asking leaders not to stir-up their supporters.

Kabila is tipped to the win the election, due in part because the opposition was unable to unify and present a candidate to compete against him.

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