KINSHASA, Congo — Antho Mputu, a high school graduate fluent in three languages, has been wandering the streets of Kinshasa for the past few years, selling baguettes she carries in a plastic bag balanced on her head.
Simon Maina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Jerome Delay/Associated Press
Jerome Delay/Associated Press
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It’s a bleak life for a single mother of two, and on Monday morning, Mrs. Mputu, 33, scratched an X next to the slot for Etienne Tshisekedi, Congo’s leading opposition figure, and voted for change in presidential and parliamentary elections that are only the second in which the entire population has been able to vote.
“We need somebody new and if the voice of the people is not respected,” Mrs. Mputu warned, “there’s going to be trouble.”
Millions of voters in this vast, turbulent and pivotal country in the lush heart of Africa streamed into the polls on Monday, and many were already bracing for serious unrest.
As predicted, balloting was a bit bumpy, with many polling stations opening late, some missing ballots, countless people unable to find their names on the voting lists and loose ballots inexplicably lying around deserted offices.
Joseph Kabila, 40, Congo’s president for the last 10 years, is incredibly unpopular in many parts of the country, especially the innumerable slums that dominate Kinshasa, the capital.
But all signs point to him trying to hold onto power, at all costs.
His soldiers have already killed several opposition supporters, including up to nine this weekend during an election-related fracas. United Nations officials and other election observers say Mr. Kabila’s men are stuffing ballot boxes, intimidating voters and bribing people to vote for the president.
Still, the vast majority of voters interviewed at polling places in Kinshasa said they had voted for Mr. Tshisekedi, a 78-year-old firebrand who briefly served as prime minister several times.
Mr. Tshisekedi has succeeded in channeling the deep discontent here — Congo was recently ranked as the world’s least developed country — and many analysts fear that whatever happens at the polls, both Mr. Kabila and Mr. Tshisekedi are going to declare themselves the winner, a recipe for disaster in a country already torn apart by recent wars.
In fact, Mr. Tshisekedi has already declared himself president and stirred up his supporters to break their comrades out of jail.
Election officials have intimated that the voting, originally scheduled to begin and end on Monday, may be extended for several days to compensate for a late start in several remote areas.
Congo is one of the biggest countries in Africa, the size of Western Europe, but it has few roads. There are more than 60,000 polling stations, many deep in the bush.
As of Sunday night, many polling places reportedly had yet to receive ballots.
And unlike 2006 — the first landmark election — the United Nations is taking a backseat role and leaving most of the logistics to a Congolese election commission headed by one of Mr. Kabila’s allies, another widespread complaint. The elections are already proving unwieldy as Congo itself, with 11 people running for president and more than 15,000 for Parliament.
In some constituencies, more than 1,000 candidates are running for a single seat and the ballot is several pages long, making it difficult to stuff into the slot of the plastic tub when voters are finished.
On Monday, there were scattered reports of violence.