Monday, December 19, 2005

DR CONGO HOLDS FIRST DEMOCRATIC VOTE FOR 40 YEARS

From the BBC:
Counting of votes has begun across Democratic Republic of Congo after an unscheduled second day of polling in a referendum on a new constitution. The electoral commission extended voting at those stations where voting had not been completed on Sunday.

If approved, the draft constitution would pave the way for the country's first democratic poll next year.

Turnout appears to be high in many areas, even parts of the east, dominated by militia groups. Opposition groups have called for a boycott and there seemed to be fewer voters in parts of the south and the capital, Kinshasa.
Great news. However, there have been a few hitches:
[T]here was confusion about what was in the text. The electoral commission has said it had distributed some 500,000 copies of the constitution around the country in four major Congolese languages - Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili.

"It is too bad we have to vote for a mystery document, but there is nothing else we can do," Edouardin Mputu, a young lawyer, told the AFP news agency.
Hmmm, reminds me of the recent referenda on the EU constitution...

It would seem that many voters in DR Congo are just as suspicious of their politicians as their European counterparts:
"Even if I vote 'no,' they will change it to 'yes,' so what is the use of voting?" said 42-year-old Aime Asoba, followed by two toddlers dressed in black suits and bowler hats. "I am going to church. At least there is no treachery there."
And sadly, voting in some areas was marred by violence:
Goma saw fighting involving Kinyarwanda speakers, regarded by some as having sided with Rwandan forces during a complex five-year war that dragged in six foreign armies.

"There was serious fighting between some Congolese voters and Congolese Rwandaphones who were being accused by their colleagues of being Rwandans and having no legitimacy in today's vote," said Jacqueline Chernard, a UN spokeswoman.
But despite all of these problems, this quote from the Guardian Unlimited exemplifies the attitude of a people desperate to put years of war behind them:
"We are the small people. We don't eat for days sometimes. I have never voted before and now we are passing from one era to another," said Charles Begi, a 34-year-old teacher who was among the first to cast his vote. "Now the small people of the country are choosing its future."
I'll raise my glass to that.


UPDATE

Reuters have kindly put together a timeline of DR Congo's recent troubles here.

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