Congo's polls today could be a crucial step for the resource-rich country's progress toward stability and self-determination. Disputed elections could leave it conflict-prone and poor.
Holding elections in a postwar country with few roads, dense jungles, a weak judiciary, deep ethnic divisions, and roving bands of armed militants might seem like a daunting task. Add in the politicians – 19,000 of them, running for 500 parliamentary seats and nearly a dozen candidates for president – and the Democratic Republic of Congo's Nov. 28 elections take on a complexity that staggers the mind.
Yet the importance of these elections, which began in polling stations across Congo today, cannot be overstated. Credible elections that are accepted by the public and by politicians are the first step toward stability and self-determination, a huge issue for a country that is rich in resources but unable to channel those resources toward development. Disputed elections would continue to leave Congo weak, conflict-prone, and able to be manipulated by its smaller, stronger neighbors.
Some observers say the risk of failure in this election is a return to civil war. An invasion by Rwanda and other countries to topple the previous president, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1996 started a 10-year conflict that killed up to 5 million.
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