AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Three days before voters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were to choose their next president, the election is on hold. Today the head of the electoral commission announced that the vote, which was already two years behind schedule, will now take place on December 30. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital, Kinshasa.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
CHANG: So what are the reasons for this latest delay?
QUIST-ARCTON: The head of the National Independent Electoral Commission, Corneille Nangaa, has put it down to technical issues. Now, there was a fire at the commission's main storage depot here in Kinshasa last Thursday. And voting machines and, he says, ballot papers went up in flames. Now, that was equipment that was meant to be used here in Kinshasa. Now, he's using that as the main reason. But a lot of people are saying there's got to be more than that. The election commission was not organized enough, and it was not ready for these elections, although delayed for two years. And now they're blaming it all on a fire. It's much more than that.
So there's a lot of anger and a lot of frustration amongst Congolese and, of course, opposition leaders who are candidates in this presidential vote as well as all the parliamentary and provincial candidates.
CHANG: Is there any hope, then, that one week will be enough to fix all these problems they profess are happening?
QUIST-ARCTON: This is the question all Congolese are asking. If you have not been able to deploy all this voting equipment and election materials in this vast country - I mean, Congo is huge. And it's a country with shocking infrastructure, lamentable roads. I mean, election materials need to go by river, by canoe, on bicycles. How are you going to get it all done by delaying for just a week?
QUIST-ARCTON: Shouldn't it have been a bit longer? So many unanswered questions at this moment - under a lot of suspicion because already people were saying, is the government trying to rig these elections? What's going on? And now, suddenly, an election delay for a week - is a week going to be enough?
CHANG: And just to rewind a little bit - as we mentioned, these elections for Congo's new president, for national and provincial lawmakers - these elections were supposed to happen back in 2016. Why has the vote been postponed for two years?
QUIST-ARCTON: Because President Kabila says Congo wasn't ready. He had to subdue a rebellion in the east and other parts of the country. That's why he has stayed on. Now, if you ask the opposition, they say it's because President Kabila, who's been in power for 18 years and was meant to stand down exactly two years ago, wanted to stay in office. He says, no, we wanted to organize perfect elections; we wanted to organize flawless elections. And of course, these are key elections because he does say he will stand down. And this will be the first time - when these elections happen - that Congo will be holding a democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. So the stakes are very high.
CHANG: Right. Now, I understand you spent quite some time interviewing President Kabila. Did you get any sense of how he's really feeling about the upcoming elections? Does it seem like he's ready to give up power and leave office?
QUIST-ARCTON: He looked relaxed; I have to say that. And he's really holding himself above the fray, so we haven't heard from President Kabila about this election delay because he said he felt that the country was ready and that it was going to hold perfect elections. But of course, Kabila's political opponents are saying - unh-unh, there's something whiffy about this, something that doesn't smell right.
CHANG: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Kinshasa.
Thank you so much, Ofeibea.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
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