The Congo elections of 2006

On 30 July 2006, the "Democratic Republic of Congo" held its first genuine-appearing elections in more than 40 years. The Congo is the largest nation in Africa in terms of physical size (comparable to all of Western Europe). With 25 million voters speaking over 200 languages, 33 candidates for president (plurality plus later top-two runoff), and 9500 parliament candidates for about 200 seats, the election was very complicated. (Cost of over $400 million just to hold it.)

Preliminary counts had incumbent President Joseph Kabila with 47% of the vote, well ahead of nearest rival Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba with 25%. I find it unlikely that true support for the other 31 candidates was this small; that was probably merely a distorted artifact of plurality system used causing voters to strategically, rather than honestly, focus on the "top two frontrunners."

This election is a good example of one in which range voting with intentional blanks allowed would be able to handle the complexity, but, (say) IRV or Condorcet methods would probably be too much to ask and would collapse under the weight of the complexity of dealing with them. The plurality system used, even with top-2 runoff, is highly dubious – even approaching "meaningless," in races with this many candidates, and mainly serves to determine which candidates have the most money.

Unfortunately, this election had problems from the beginning. The main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), boycotted it, claiming it would not be free or fair. Their demonstrations in Kinshasa, the capital, were broken up by riot police firing tear gas. At a pre-election rally in the eastern border town of Rutshuru, seven demonstrators were shot dead by soldiers. Journalists were kidnapped and executed. There were riots. There were claims that the leading candidate Kabila was rigging it and using police to harass major opposition candidates. (Many rioters thought so.) After the election, 15 candidates in a joint statement also signed by several government ministers, complained of "flagrant and massive irregularities all over the country" including tampering with polling documents and bribing voters, and accused international bodies overseeing the elections of a "complicit silence" in the irregularities.

At least four DRC election officials were arrested in Kinshasa for election fraud. They worked in a vote counting center in Kinshasa where they were "caught red handed falsifying vote documents." The president of the Independent Electoral Commission, Apollinaire Malu Malu, said an investigation had been launched to "clarify the situation."

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