21 candidates seek to replace Kabila
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) goes to the polls this week in elections which could see the country emerge from 17 years of conflict-ridden rule under controversial President Joseph Kabila.
Twenty-one candidates are running to replace Kabila.
The president’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is one of the front-runners.
At stake is the political stewardship of a mineral-rich country that has never known a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
More than 40-million voters will cast their ballots on Sunday to choose a successor to 47year-old Kabila, who has ruled the nation since the assassination of his father in 2001.
In a sign of growing international concern about the risk of violence, the United States on Friday ordered its non-essential staff to leave its embassy in the capital Kinshasa.
At least six people were killed last week in clashes at two opposition rallies, with police blamed for the violence.
The embassies of the United States, Canada, Britain and Switzerland in Kinshasa said they were deeply concerned by the loss of life. The UN rights chief also denounced the excessive use of force against opposition supporters.
He urged Kinshasa to ensure the “essential conditions for credible elections”.
The aftermath of 2006 and 2011 polls – both won by Kabila – resulted in bloodshed.
The election was long delayed because Kabila should have stepped down as president at the end of 2016 when he reached a two-term limit.
But he stayed on thanks to a constitutional clause enabling him to remain in office until a poll is held, sparking protests that were bloodily repressed.
Both the US and European Union have issued sanctions, citing human rights violations, against top Congolese officials.
Shadary is a key ally of the president who served as interior minister during violent crackdowns on demonstrators.
He is among the senior DRC officials to be blacklisted by the EU in May 2017 for serious human rights violations.
The opposition has claimed that Shadary, if he wins, will only be a figurehead president with Kabila holding onto power behind the scenes.