Congo’s voter registry will not be complete until July 2017, the electoral commission said on Saturday, signalling a delayed election that will let President Joseph Kabila extend his 15-year rule beyond the end of his mandate in December.
Though an election postponement had been expected, failure to hold the poll this year will likely fuel anti-Kabila street protests in which dozens of opposition activists have been arrested and killed since last year.
There was no immediate reaction from the opposition to the announcement but an African Union mediator on Democratic Republic of Congo, Edem Kodjo, said the way was open for all-party talks to secure agreement on the election to start on Tuesday.
A drive to register more than 30 million voters started in March and will take 16 months to complete, election commission president Corneille Nangaa told representatives of political parties in the capital, Kinshasa.
“The issue before us today in Congo is how to reconcile the electoral cycle … with the technical constraints we face,” Nangaa said, referring to the logistical challenges of holding elections in a nation roughly the size of western Europe.
Congo’s highest court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office if no election was held by November.
Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, then won his first election in 2006. The constitution limits a president to two terms, though opponents accuse him of stalling the election to cling on to power.
Mineral-rich Congo is plagued by militia violence in the east and has never experienced a peaceful transition of power.
About 40 demonstrators died in anti-government protests in January 2015 and opposition leaders plan further demonstrations if he does not stand down in December.
Kabila said this month a revised election timetable would only be published once a new voter registry is ready.
The government has said it prefers to hold local and provincial elections before the presidential poll, and some political analysts say that suggests Congolese will not go to the polls to choose Kabila’s successor until 2018 or 2019.
Opposition leaders fear Kabila will seek a constitutional referendum to extend term limits as the presidents of neighbouring Rwanda and Congo Republic did last year.
Kabila has refused to rule out such a move and has called for all-party talks. On Friday, the government pardoned 24 jailed government critics in a bid to ease tension.