A fire overnight at a warehouse in Congo’s capital destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes that were due to be used in the country’s long-delayed December 23 presidential election, a presidential adviser said on Thursday.
Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi blamed unidentified “criminals“ for the blaze, which destroyed about 7,000 of the 10,000 voting machines due to be used in the capital Kinshasa, but said preparations for the election were continuing.
Kikaya said police guarding the warehouse — located in the Gombe riverside area of Kinshasa that is also home to President Joseph Kabila’s residence — had been arrested but made no further comment on what or who might have caused the blaze.
He said voting machines from elsewhere in Democratic Republic of Congo would be recalled for use in Kinshasa, which is home to more than 15% of the Congolese population. The fire broke out about 2am (0100 GMT) and forensic police have now launched an investigation, Kikaya said.
This month’s highly anticipated vote could mark Congo’s first peaceful transition of power. Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is due to step down because of constitutional term limits, although the vote has already been delayed by two years due to what authorities said were logistical challenges.
UNTESTED VOTING MACHINES
The introduction of the untested tablet-like voting machines for the election has been widely opposed by opposition candidates competing against Kabila’s preferred successor, former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
They say the machines are more vulnerable to vote-rigging than paper and ink and could be compromised by the unreliability of Congo’s power supply.
The government and opposition have traded accusations that the other side is trying to undermine the vote. Kabila’s camp say the opposition is not prepared for the vote and looking for excuses to delay it, while his opponents accuse the president of looking for further excuses to hold onto power.
The delay in the elections has coincided with a breakdown in security across much of the vast mineral-rich country. Militants fight over land and resources in the east near the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
Campaigning over the past three weeks has been mostly peaceful but deadly clashes between police and opposition supporters this week in the southeast has revived concerns over violence.