Kinshasa (AFP) – South Korea’s government has officially distanced itself from a firm providing electronic voting machines to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where tensions are running high ahead of a presidential poll in December.
In an email sent to AFP on Tuesday, the South Korean embassy in Kinshasa spelt out what it called the government’s “official position,” expressing concern the contract could become embroiled in DRC’s political crisis.
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,” said the statement, in French.
The vote due in the vast and troubled central African country on December 23 has been twice postponed since 2016, and some analysts fear an explosion of violence if the poll is delayed again.
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 international community is concerned by the fact that the Congolese government could once again postpone the election or endanger the peaceful and orderly conduct of the election,” the embassy said.
“The Korean government shares these concerns,” it said.
– ‘Cheating machines’ –
A South Korea firm called Miru Systems Co. Ltd. is providing the machines for the December 23 poll, which also combines legislative and local elections.
The DRC’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) showed off the device to reporters on February 21.
It said it would be impossible to stage elections on schedule without electronic machines. A country nearly four times the size of France, struggling with decrepit roads and other infrastructure, the DRC faces huge logistical challenges in setting up polling stations and counting ballots.
CENI President Corneille Nangaa said a single device could handle the ballots of “600 to 700 voters”. The CENI has estimated the total potential electorate at about 45 million.
The commission argues the machines will reduce and possibly suppress electoral fraud.
In contrast, the Congolese opposition has dismissed the devices as “cheating machines.” The influential Catholic church has called on CENI to “lift suspicions” about them by “accepting 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.
The South Korean embassy, in its statement, pointedly added that the use of voting machines in the DRC had failed to gain support from international watchdogs.
“Until last year, A-Web, a Korean non-profit organisation, provided technical support to CENI regarding the use of the voting machines. However, A-Web severed ties with the Congo, consistent with the position of the Korean government,” the embassy statement said.
It added, however, “The Korean government possesses no legal right to forcibly discourage a private Korean company from exporting its products.”
CENI chief Nangaa told AFP by telephone that the reasons cited by the South Korea government “don’t stand up.”
“You can delay or cheat in the elections without any voting machine,” he said.
“CENI is doing business with a Korean firm, not the Korean government. I know there will be other attacks of this kind, but they will not shake us in our determination to hold the elections wanted by the Congolese people and not imposed by foreign diktat,” he added.
Miru Systems could not immediately be reached for comment. It does not have an office or representation in the DRC.