By Margaret Besheer*
UNITED NATIONS —
The U.N. secretary-general is urging authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo not to further delay general elections but to hold them, as promised, at the end of this year.
“In the current politically polarized climate, there is a real risk that plans for the holding of the long-awaited polls could be derailed once again,” Antonio Guterres wrote in his quarterly report to the Security Council on the work of the U.N. stabilization mission in DRC, known as MONUSCO.
The government and opposition signed an agreement Dec. 31, 2016, calling for President Joseph Kabila to step down after elections were held in 2017. But the promised polls have been repeatedly delayed, inciting civil unrest and prompting fears that the 46-year-old Kabila may seek to further extend his 17-year-long rule.
The elections, which are also to include legislative and provincial contests, have been rescheduled for Dec. 23, 2018.
“The government, the ruling majority, the opposition and civil society, and the Electoral Commission must all play their part in ensuring that electoral preparations proceed in a timely fashion,” U.N. Peacekeeping Chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told a meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday. “Further delays in the electoral process not only risk fueling political tensions, but also compounding an already fragile security situation.”
Lacroix’s office oversees the MONUSCO mission which, with more than 21,000 personnel and an annual budget of over a billion dollars, is the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping operation. It recently suffered the loss of 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers in an ambush in the volatile eastern part of the country.
On Dec. 31, state security forces forcibly put down anti-Kabila protests organized by Catholic activists, and at least five protesters were reported killed, further raising concerns.