Election season in Liberia and Congo

A voter approaches the ballot box in Monrovia, Liberia, during the last presidential polls in November 2005 which were eventually won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who became Africa's first female president. She is running for a second term in elections due in October.
Chris Hondros

Voters in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to go to the polls in the coming months, both undertaking their second democratic elections since the end of long-running civil wars.

But while Liberia appears on track for an October election there are serious doubts about Congo’s readiness for scheduled elections in November.

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who won a second round run-off against footballer George Weah in 2005 has gone back on a promise to serve a single term in office.

She will defend her presidency against opponents including Winston Tubman, scion of one of Liberia’s best-known political dynasties (one of the capital’s main boulevards bears the family name) and his running-mate, Weah, a man who remains hugely popular with the mostly unemployed young men, many of whom are ex-fighters.

Also among the 16 registered candidates is Prince Johnson, a former rebel leader and one-time ally of Charles Taylor, infamous for presiding over the video-taped torture of political rival Samuel Doe.

A referendum in August – kind of a dry run for the election – went well enough and now the polls are on track for 11 October.

It is a different story in Congo, a far larger and rather less manageable place. The last elections there, in 2006, was bankrolled and managed by the United Nations but this time around it is up to the domestic elections commission to prepare the ground and conduct the polls.

It does not seem ready. President Joseph Kabila who took power after his father’s assassination and then legitimised his rule with victory in the 2006 polls will stand again.

He will face a fractured opposition but one that includes some strong candidates including political veteran Etienne Tshisekedi (who boycotted the last election) and former speaker of the national assembly Vital Kamerhe.

Another potential candidate is Jean-Pierre Bemba, a wealthy businessman-cum-warlord who pushed Kabila to a second-round in 2006 and is now languishing in a cell at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

This week riot police violently broke up an opposition protest in the capital Kinshasa against alleged fraud in the electoral commission, and this is months before the polls are even due.

The International Crisis Group and other observers as well as civil society organisations are concerned that the electoral commission is rushing headlong into an ill-prepared vote on 28 November.