Kinshasa, DR Congo | AFP | Influential bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday urged President Joseph Kabila to pledge he will not seek a third term in office in order to ease fears of unrest.
Roman Catholic bishops last year helped broker a deal under which elections for a new president would be held in 2017.
However, the ballot has been delayed, with the country’s electoral commission blaming logistical problems.
Under international pressure, the mineral-rich but chronically poor and politically unstable country has now scheduled the vote for December 23 2018.
The bishops, after holding an extraordinary meeting on DRC’s crisis, called on Kabila “to reassure public opinion” that he will not be a candidate “to his own succession,” they said in statement.
His prolonged rule has already led to street protests and a bloody crackdown.
“It is essential, on the grounds of (demonstrating) sincere political will, to reassure the Congolese people and international partners by providing guarantees that elections will effectively be held,” they warned.
In power since 2001, Kabila’s second elected mandate ended in December 2016, according to the constitution, which bars presidents from seeking a third term.
However, he is allowed to remain in office until a successor is elected, according to a court ruling.
The electoral commission declared that organising a vote in the vast central African country was not possible before March 2019, before the DR Congo’s foreign partners upped the pressure and a timetable was issued.
The bishops also called on the government to publish a funding plan for the poll and to ease constraints concerning political prisoners and exiles.
The authorities made arrests ahead of an opposition march on November 15, sparking concern from the United States, Switzerland and Canada about limits on the freedom of expression.
Two decades ago DR Congo collapsed into the deadliest conflict in modern African history.
Its two wars in the late 1990s and early 2000s dragged in at least six African armies and left more than three million dead. The east of the country remains a battleground for rival ethnic militias.
Kabila took office after his father Laurent-Desire Kabila was assassinated in 2001 at the height of the Second Congo War.
He was confirmed as leader in 2006 during the first free elections since independence, and re-elected for a second term in 2011 in a vote marred by accusations of fraud.
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