DR of Congo President, Joseph Kabila

The UN Security Council members have expressed conviction that the long-awaited Dec. 23 presidential election will be a historic opportunity for peaceful transfer of power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In a statement issued on the electoral preparations, Council members recognised the present moment as charged with potential “for the first democratic and peaceful transfer of power.”

The 15-member Council also said the next week vote should be an opportunity for “the consolidation of stability in the country and the creation of the conditions for its development.”

The elections will mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power since 1960, and the first change in the Presidency since Joseph Kabila took office in 2001, in wake of his father’s assassination.

Kabila is stepping down after 18 years – two years after his mandate officially expired.

The Congo has been bedeviled by violence since its liberation from Belgian rule 58 years ago when Congolese independence leader, Patrice Lumumba, was overthrown.

Conflict broke out between the 1990s and early 2000s, and Congolese elections had been marred by violence and disruption during campaigning and voting.

Last week, crackdowns by security forces killed at least seven opposition supporters in the capital, Kinshasa, now an opposition stronghold, similar to protests in 2006 and 2011, sparked by disputed election results.

Members of the Security Council however expressed concern that just days ahead of the election, the electoral campaign has been the subject of violence resulting in loss of lives and significant damage.

“The members of the Security Council reiterate their call on all parties – Government and opposition – to engage peacefully and constructively in the electoral process.

“This is in order to ensure transparent, peaceful and credible elections and to preserve peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region,” the Council’s statement read.

The violence in the capital, along with a fire that destroyed thousands of voting machines there several days ago, had prompted the governor to on Wednesday impose a ban on campaigning in the city.

The Council urged Congolese actors to participate with “full respect for the  December 31, 2016 Agreement,” a deal that envisioned the current elections to be held at the end of 2017.

The Council had in November called for a peaceful electoral process, urging all political players to uphold the freedom of expression and assembly and unhindered campaigning, the hallmarks of democratic exercise of the people’s will during the period. (NAN)