Congo on Sunday faces a troubled, long-delayed election

Congo on Sunday faces a troubled, long-delayed election
Congolese opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu is mobbed by media crews as he leaves a meeting with other candidates, CENI and SADC in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018.Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo's presidential election takes place on Sunday after more than two years of delays. Protests , an opposition outcry and the surprise barring of 1 million voters from the polls over an Ebola outbreak marked the final days of preparations.

The country faces what could be its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power as President Joseph Kabila, who took office in 2001, steps aside. Some observers, however, fear further unrest. The election commission chief has worried openly about rebels shooting voters waiting at the polls.

With political activities banned in the capital, Kinshasa, in the final days, residents instead gathered at newsstands to fiercely debate the fate of a country wealthy in minerals crucial for the world's smartphones and electric cars and yet desperately underdeveloped.

With the top candidates largely unknown until months ago, there is much to discuss.

Kinshasa's governor banned political activities in the vibrant opposition stronghold as leading candidate Martin Fayulu arrived to campaign. Fayulu, a businessman and Kinshasa lawmaker who emerged to lead an opposition coalition, has blamed Kabila's supporters for attempts to impede his campaign, including blocked flights and deadly assaults on supporters. Kabila has dismissed such accusations.

Election volunteers tape the list of registered voters at the entrance to a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Election volunteers tape the list of registered voters at the entrance to a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

"The international community has to ask why only one candidate was disturbed," Fayulu told The Associated Press this week.

Congolese ruling party loyalist and presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, center, leaves a meeting between CENI, SADC and other presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Congolese ruling party loyalist and presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, center, leaves a meeting between CENI, SADC and other presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

The opposition is fractured after Felix Tshisekedi, son of late opposition icon Etienne Tshisekedi, dropped out of the coalition to run on his own. Two other opposition heavyweights, former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and former governor Moise Katumbi, were blocked from running.

A cleaner sweeps the floors of a school classroom being prepared as a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A cleaner sweeps the floors of a school classroom being prepared as a polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Even if the opposition were unified, some Congolese said it would have no chance against Kabila's preferred successor , ruling party loyalist Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. His campaign billboards far outnumber those of other candidates in Kinshasa, but he is largely unpopular there.

A hairdresser waits for customers in Kinshasa, Congo, Friday Dec. 28, 2018. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A hairdresser waits for customers in Kinshasa, Congo, Friday Dec. 28, 2018. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Shadary is under European Union sanctions for obstructing Congo's electoral process as interior minister and for a crackdown on people protesting the election delay. The international pressure has annoyed Congo's government, and EU and other Western election observers have not been invited to watch Sunday's vote.

Corneille Nangaa, the president of the independent electoral commission (CENI), centre, arrives at a meeting with SADC members and presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race that has been plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Corneille Nangaa, the president of the independent electoral commission (CENI), centre, arrives at a meeting with SADC members and presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race that has been plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

"No one loves the ruling party candidate but we already know what is going to happen. Sunday's vote is not credible and we will contest the results," said Ange Mvouessa, a civil servant who said he has not been paid in 18 months. He is backing Fayulu.

ADDING SHADARY FOR FULL NAME OF CANDIDATE : Congolese ruling party loyalist and presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, 2nd right, smile as they attend a meeting between CENI, SADC and other presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race that has been plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
ADDING SHADARY FOR FULL NAME OF CANDIDATE : Congolese ruling party loyalist and presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, 2nd right, smile as they attend a meeting between CENI, SADC and other presidential candidates in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race that has been plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

More than anything, he and others said they want peace in a country that has seen little of it.

Congolese opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu attends a prayer service at Notre Dame du Congo cathedral in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Congolese opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu attends a prayer service at Notre Dame du Congo cathedral in Kinshasa, Congo, Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday Dec. 30 for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumours of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Millions of people have died over two decades of fighting that began with the ouster of longtime leader Mobutu Sese Seko by a rebel coalition led by Kabila's father. Dozens of rebel groups remain active in the mineral-rich east and elsewhere.

In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents read newspaper headlines at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents read newspaper headlines at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Meanwhile, corruption is widespread. "Congo is a blessed country, we have everything but we are starving because of bad management," another Kinshasa resident, Thomas Basele, said. "We don't want corruption anymore, we are suffocating but Kabila doesn't want the population to speak," added Sylvie Imela.

In this Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, photo, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a street newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30 for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
In this Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, photo, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a street newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30 for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

The frustration flared into sometimes deadly protests as the election, once set for late 2016, was repeatedly delayed. Now the electoral commission's last-minute decision to bar some 1 million people from voting on Sunday because of an Ebola outbreak has brought more unrest.

In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents read newspaper headlines at a street newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents read newspaper headlines at a street newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Voters in the Ebola-hit cities of Beni and Butembo, where Fayulu campaigned to enthusiastic crowds, have protested. Health officials have said precautions were in place to allow the vote. The World Health Organization on Friday warned that "prolonged insecurity" could hurt what has become the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

The electoral commission is "manipulating the population to spark an uprising," Mvouessa, the civil servant, said. "But we know better than those manipulations. Congolese people don't want violence anymore."

In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
In this photograph taken Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, Kinshasa residents argue about politics at a streetside newsstand in Kinshasa, Congo. Congolese people are heading to the polls Sunday, Dec. 30th for a presidential race plagued by years of delay and persistent rumors of lack of preparation. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (Source: Jerome Delay)

Fayulu's opposition coalition has called for calm. Beni's civil society has urged residents to turn out again on Sunday and demand to vote with the rest of the country.

Protesters walk past a burning tyre in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Protesters walk past a burning tyre in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro) (Source: Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Congo's 40 million voters now face an unprecedented test. Voting machines are being used for the first time, bringing opposition concerns that they could be used to manipulate election results.

Congolese police move to quell protests in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Congolese police move to quell protests in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro) (Source: Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Critics say many in rural Congo have little or no computer experience, while officials project that each person should take under a minute to vote. Lack of electricity in large parts of the country could turn a malfunction into a mess. Some machines have to be carried on the heads of porters through the bush to reach remote polling stations.

Protesters in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Protesters in the Eastern Congolese town of Beni, Friday Dec. 28, 2018, as they demonstrate against the election postponed until March 2019, announced by Congo's electoral commission for Beni residents that is blamed on a deadly Ebola outbreak. Congo's leader Joseph Kabila has blamed a deadly Ebola virus outbreak for the last-minute decision to keep an estimated 1 million voters from the polls in Sunday's long-delayed presidential election. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro) (Source: Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Some Congolese election observers in the past week alleged that voting materials were not yet in place. In Kinshasa, a fire several days ago destroyed thousands of the machines and officials replaced most of them. Now people must use a limited number of polling stations.

The electoral commission says everything is ready, to shouts of disbelief.

"One thing is for sure, (the commission) is not playing transparency at all," said Luc Lutala, spokesman for one observer group, SYMOCEL. "We see trucks coming in and out from voting centers, but there is no way to know what is in it, or not."

Less than 48 hours before the vote, police in Kinshasa guarded newly delivered equipment at polling stations. But several people trained to be electoral agents told the AP they had yet to see a voting machine.

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