UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged all sides to ensure that landmark elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo be free of violence to allow voters to peacefully cast their ballots.
Millions of Congolese voters will head to the polls on Sunday for long-delayed elections that could pave the way for the first democratic change in presidency since the country’s independence in 1960.
Guterres called on DRC authorities, political leaders, election officials and civil society “to continue working together to ensure an environment free of violence so that all eligible voters can cast their ballots peacefully on Election Day.”
He reminded “all actors that they have a critical role to play in preventing electoral violence, by refraining from any form of provocation and showing maximum restraint in their words and actions,” a UN statement said.
The UN chief encourages citizens to “seize this historic opportunity to participate in the consolidation of the country’s democratic institutions.”
Voters will also be casting ballots to fill seats in the national and provincial parliaments in the vast mineral-rich country.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is not standing for re-election but his party has designated former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as its presidential candidate.
A total of 21 candidates are running for the presidency, but voting will not take place in two regions hit by turmoil: Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province and Yumbi in the west of the country.
Elections there will be held in March. The new president is to be sworn in on January 18.
The call for peaceful elections came a few days after clashes between supporters of rival candidates just days ahead of DR Congo’s crucial presidential election which left at least one person has been killed and over 80 injured.
Unrest erupted in Tshikapa, a city in the restive central Kasai region, on Sunday when the planes of two rival candidates — opposition heavyweight Felix Tshisekedi and former education minister Maker Mwangu — landed at the airport just a few hours apart.
Sources with observers at the scene said at least one person had been killed and around 20 arrested.