Ebola-hit Congolese town stages mock vote to protest at ban

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Residents of an Ebola hotspot in eastern Congo staged a mock presidential election on Sunday to show the authorities a decision to postpone the vote there due to health fears was unfounded.

Hundreds waited in line in Beni, an opposition stronghold, to get fake voter IDs stamped by men dressed as election officials.

They then cast their votes in improvised urns and showed off ink-stained index fingers to prove they participated - just like people across the country voting for real.

Hand-washing stations were set up to minimize the contagion risk from the six-month Ebola outbreak, which is the second-worst in history.

On Wednesday, the electoral board (CENI) postponed the long-anticipated vote in a number of towns in Democratic Republic of Congo, citing concerns about the epidemic and ethnic violence, but the move was seen by some as an effort to suppress votes for the opposition.

“We suffer a lot here in Beni,” said one participant in the mock election. “They have now come with an excuse about Ebola. How come they are not shutting down markets, roads and churches?”

The electoral pantomime was a more peaceful response than last week, when protesters barricaded the streets and attacked Ebola centers in the wake of the CENI’s decision.

Citizens elsewhere voted in what is meant to lead to the country’s first democratic transition of power. Elections are a rare event in Congo, which has been plagued by authoritarian rule, assassinations, coups and civil wars since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Reporting by Erikas Mwisi in Beni and Fiston Mahamba in Goma; Writing by Alessandra Prentice