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People in the Democratic Republic of Congo are on edge today. The government has cut off or dramatically restricted Internet access in some parts of the DRC. The country held its presidential election yesterday after a delay of two years. But opposition candidates and neutral observers say the government put plenty of roadblocks in voters' way. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the capital Kinshasa.
UNIDENTIFIED POLLING AGENT: (Speaking French).
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Polling agents are counting the ballots that should decide whether Democratic Republic of Congo is to witness its first peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another. Up to 40 million eligible Congolese, like Jacqueline Abedi Ongona, one of the first to line up at this polling station in Kinshasa, patiently waited to cast their votes.
JACQUELINE ABEDI ONGONA: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: "I'm excited," she said, "to be choosing my new leader. I want change, better education, better health, better housing." As she proudly held out her finger stained with indelible ink, Abedi Ongona told NPR the controversial new voting machines into which you insert your ballot paper could be a problem for some.
ABEDI ONGONA: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: "I was able to work out how to use the voting machine," said Abedi Ongona, "but my sister-in-law, for instance, would need help." The stakes are high in these long-delayed presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections in Congo, a massive mineral- and metal-rich country the size of Western Europe, with a poor population. After almost 18 years in power, outgoing President Joseph Kabila had called for a flawless vote. Opposition presidential candidates, like Martin Fayulu, say Sunday's elections were anything but.
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MARTIN FAYULU: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: Fayulu said faulty, controversial, new voting machines, missing voters' registers and lengthy delays were just some of the problems. The electoral commission said any voting irregularities were minor.
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FAYULU: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: But Fayulu added that even more damaging, once manual voting began, some of his opposition coalition's representatives were kicked out of polling stations. After he voted, another opposition frontrunner, Felix Tshisekedi, accused the authorities of deliberately organizing a chaotic election to trigger a court challenge which would allow Kabila to prolong his caretaker leadership. Nonsense, says Kikaya bin Karubi, a spokesman for the campaign of Kabila's preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
KIKAYA BIN KARUBI: Well, the conspiracy theory, you can apply it in every situation. We agree that there were situations whereby there were problems, but these problems are not in the nature of changing the final results.
QUIST-ARCTON: But thousands of observers deployed by a local civic coalition and the influential Catholic Church, that has mediated, in a past peace deal between Kabila and the opposition, identified multiple problems with the vote.
DONATIEN NSHOLE: (Speaking French).
QUIST-ARCTON: And spokesmen for Congo's Catholic Bishops Conference, Abbot Donatien Nshole says the authorities are creating suspicion by limiting Internet access at this crucial point in the process, and people need to say Happy New Year to each other. Final results of the presidential race are expected latest January 15.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kinshasa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.