Update of voter lists could push Congo election beyond this year: sources

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo will take at least 13 months to revise its voter lists, according to what three sources said was an estimate from the elections commission, casting doubt on whether 2016 presidential elections will be held on time.

President Joseph Kabila has stopped short of saying he will step down in November at the end of his second elected mandate, though the constitution bars him from seeking a third term.

A document dated Jan. 14 purporting to be from the National Independent Elections Commission (CENI) and published on Twitter, said it would take 13 months and 10 days to carry out even a partial revision of the lists at a cost of $122 million.

A full revision, the document stated, would take 16 months and cost up to $290 million.

The CENI said it was unable to vouch for the authenticity of the note, which was published by UK-based political analyst Michael Tshibangu, president of the Association of Development and Democracy in the Congo.

Two diplomatic sources in Kinshasa confirmed the document was genuine.

While the government’s spokesman has repeatedly said Kabila intends to respect the law, critics have accused him of maneuvering to delay the elections by drawing out the electoral calendar in a bid to maintain his grip on power.

Both Kabila and the opposition have called for polls to be held with updated voter registers that would include an estimated 7 million new voters who have turned 18 since Congo’s last presidential elections in 2011 elections.

The opposition parties and some independent analysts have said it is possible to update the voter rolls in time for the November poll date.

Congo has not had a peaceful transfer of power in the 55 years of independence from former colonial ruler Belgium, and some fear the dispute over elections could again spark violence in a nation that has seen decades of war and unrest.

Kabila came to power after his father’s assassination and won two terms in 2006 and 2011 in disputed elections.

Amid rising tensions over his perceived attempts to extend his rule in Africa’s top copper producer, he called last November for a national dialogue that most of the major opposition parties have subsequently vowed to boycott.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Joe Bavier and Raissa Kasolowsky