December 4 , 2006
Carter Center team observes Congo elections
Julie Benz Pottie was public information officer for The Carter Center observation team in the Congo run-off election in late October.
Recent posting of the results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s provisional presidential election marks what has been a remarkably well-orchestrated democratic process since the country emerged from a five-year civil war in 2003. The results proclaimed victory for current President Joseph Kabila over Vice President Jean Pierre Bemba.
The Carter Center has been in the Congo observing its electoral process since April, and the 45-member team deployed to monitor the Oct. 29 presidential runoff elections found them to be extremely orderly and peaceful. The delegation of observers in Kinshasa and all 10 provinces of the Congo represented 14 countries and was led by former Prime Minister of Canada Joe Clark and John Stremlau, associate executive director for peace programs at The Carter Center.
“The administration of these elections was very well executed, bearing testimony to the accumulated experience of the many thousands of election workers over three democratic exercises held in less than a year,” said Clark in a post-election statement.
The size of Western Europe and situated in the center of the African continent, the Congo is surrounded by nine countries and possesses mineral wealth unmatched by any other country in the world. After many years of exploitation, corrupt leaders, wars and millions of deaths by disease and deprivation, democratic elections represent potential stability for the region and hold great importance for Congo’s 62 million people, who view them as an opportunity to return to legitimate democracy, create institutions for development, rise out of poverty, and finally know peace and security.
The Congo’s Independent Electoral Commission overcame tremendous logistical and political challenges to organize the first democratic elections since the country’s independence in 1960. Following voter registration and a constitutional referendum in 2005, more than 9,000 candidates joined the campaign for 500 parliamentary seats, and 33 candidates ran for the post of president in the July elections.
But after intense fighting broke out after the announcement of results, implementation of observer recommendations for improvement was crucial to increasing voter confidence in the October polls. The electoral commission responded to lessons learned from the first round and adopted wide-ranging, systematic improvements to significantly increase the quality of electoral administration for the second round.
“Election observation is not solely about playing detective to find and expose fraud,” said David Pottie, associate director of the Center’s Democracy Program. “It is also about building support for a political process that is based on tolerance and diversity.”
Despite continued high tensions between the candidates and concerns over negative and violent campaign practices, the Center congratulated election workers, police, candidate witnesses, observers and voters for participating in the elections peacefully and in accordance with the established election procedures.