By Giulia Paravicini and Stanis Bujakera
KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo opposition parties said election officials were trying to provoke trouble by delaying Sunday’s scheduled presidential election, and warned they would not tolerate any move to further postpone the contest.
Felix Tshisekedi, a leading opposition candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential contest, urged his supporters to stay calm despite the electoral board’s (CENI) decision on Thursday to delay the vote by a week.
The CENI announced the election, which has been delayed several times since 2016, would now take place on Dec. 30 due to a fire last week that destroyed voting materials.
The poll is meant to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down after 18 years in what would be Congo’s first democratic transition.
In remarks to the media and hundreds of chanting supporters, Tshisekedi accused the CENI of trying to provoke his followers to protest in order to later accuse them of inciting trouble.
“We are aware of this strategy. That’s why I ask you to remain calm and respect the position that we are announcing,” Tshisekedi said at the headquarters of his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party.
UDPS secretary-general Jean-Marc Kabund added in response to questions from the media that any further delays would not be accepted, saying that the new election date was “a red line”.
“If there is a delay of the election after the 30th, you don’t need to wait for our instructions,” Kabund said.
Kabila’s refusal to step down when his mandate officially expired in December 2016 sparked violent protests in which security forces killed dozens of people and contributed to a spike in militia violence across the country.
Security forces have cracked down in the past week on supporters of Tshisekedi and the other leading opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, who are competing against Kabila’s preferred candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
At least seven opposition supporters were killed last week, and Kinshasa’s governor suspended campaigning in the capital on Wednesday, citing security fears.
(Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Jon Boyle)