By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA (Reuters) – The president of Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission said on Saturday that he expects the presidential election, originally scheduled for this November, to be delayed until December 2018, lawmakers present at his speech said.
The announcement is likely to stoke political tensions after at least 50 people died last week in the capital Kinshasa in clashes between protesters and security forces over accusations that President Joseph Kabila is deliberately delaying the poll to cling to power.
Kabila denies he is behind the delays, which he says are due to logistical and budgetary constraints in the impoverished, infrastructure-starved country.
Commission president Corneille Nangaa told delegates at ongoing multi-party talks that the commission would finish updating the voter registry on July 31, 2017 and require an additional 504 days to organise the vote, several people present at the closed door meeting said.
A national deputy and the minister of parliamentary relations confirmed Nangaa’s remarks on Twitter.
The talks are meant to reach a consensus among Kabila’s allies, opponents and civil society on the election date.
However, most major opposition parties are boycotting the talks, which they say are intended to provide a pretext for Kabila to stay in office.
Kabila, who took office in 2001 after the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila, is required by constitutional term limits to step down in December.
Congo’s economy has been damaged by the fall in global commodity prices. In June the government cut its 2016 budget by 22 percent and the growth forecast for 2016 has been cut from 9 percent to 4.3 percent.
Congo relies heavily on the mining and oil sectors, which together account for about 95 percent of its export earnings.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)