In the remote district near Kisangani where I observed the elections, voters had learned their lesson from the last round. Instead of rushing to the polling centres at dawn, they went to church first, and showed up nonchalantly mid-morning. In most cases, they queued up obediently, under the watchful eye of a bored policeman. In a few places there was still some pushing and shoving, but considering that voters were standing for hours under merciless sun and in sweltering heat, they once again showed boundless patience.
Once inside the polling station, the relatively straightforward presidential ballot, reduced from 33 candidates to two, was dealt with expeditiously. Not so with the ballot for provincial representative, which featured close to 300 candidates spread over 7 pages, and caused endless grief among the illiterate or those with poor eye-sight. “These are the first real elections in our history, and everyone wants to be a candidate,” explained an election official after I commented on the number of trees that must have been cut down to make the ballots.
In Kinshasa, where people woke up on Sunday morning to the biggest storm of the year, voting was extended into the night, to make up for the morning’s wash-out. Participation rates for Kinshasa were lower than during the first round, but considering that people often don’t show up for work on a rainy day, and considering that many polling centres didn’t provide shelter for those waiting in line for their turn, it’s a tribute to voters that they braced the storm and showed up at all.
As I went from polling centre to polling centre, I asked people what brought them there. Their duty, of course. When I asked them what they hoped to get out of these elections, the answer was always the same: peace, and a job.
Now everyone is hoping for a substantial margin between the two candidates, of at least 10 percent so that the loser cannot challenge the result.
P.S: I just heard on Radio Okapi that the ballot papers will be recycled into loo paper.