South Korea election panel attacks DR Congo voting system

Tuesday April 10 2018

DR Congo 2018 elections

One of the new voting machines that will be used during the Democratic Republic of the Congo's elections due on December 23. PHOTO | JOHN WESSELS | AFP 

By AFP
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South Korea's election panel has refused to back touchscreen voting provided by a Korean firm for vital elections in DR Congo, saying the system is badly suited for the country's needs.

A long-delayed presidential poll is due to take place in the volatile country in December, and mounting tensions have prompted fears of bloodshed.

A key factor in the crisis is the perceived credibility of the vote, and a South Korean company, Miru Systems Co. Ltd., is under scrutiny for a contract to provide touchscreen voting machines.

In a statement, South Korea's National Election Commission (NEC) said it was offering "no support or guarantee" for the system being provided for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The NEC has expressed its serious concern about the forcible introduction of TVS [touchscreen voting system] into the DR Congo despite the unstable political situation and the vulnerable environment for TVS, including poor electrical infrastructure and road conditions, the high illiteracy rate and a tropical climate which can lead to equipment malfunction," it said.

The NEC statement, issued on Sunday, came five days after the South Korean embassy in Kinshasa officially distanced itself from Miru Systems.

Undesirable results

Use of the machines "could give the Congolese government a pretext for undesirable results related to the elections, notably a further delay in holding the elections," the embassy statement said.

At stake is the future of President Joseph Kabila, who took power in 2001 and remains in office even though the vote to choose a successor should have been held in December 2016 and was again postponed in 2017.

Kabila is constitutionally allowed to remain in office beyond his two-term limit until his successor is elected.

But spiralling doubts about the election timetable — and whether Kabila will step down or run again — have spurred protests that have been bloodily repressed at the cost of dozens of lives.

The Congolese opposition has dismissed the touchscreens as "cheating machines" while the country's influential Catholic Church has said the devices need "certification by national and international experts."

The United States, for its part, has said voting machines could undermine the credibility of the polls.

"These elections must be held by paper ballot so there is no question by the Congolese people about the result," Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said on February 13.

South Korea's NEC said it was "in full agreement" with Haley's and the embassy's opposition.

DR Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) argues that it would be impossible to stage elections on schedule without electronic machines, giving the huge logistical challenges in setting up polling stations and counting ballots in a country with poor infrastructure.

Under the system, a voter touches a photo of the candidate to cast their ballot and then receives a printout of it. The paper is then put in a ballot box to provide verification by a manual count later.