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 CNS Story:

CONGO-ELECTIONS May-9-2006 (730 words) With photo. xxxi

Priest heads logistics, education for first vote in Congo since 1960

By Regina Linskey
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Congolese Father Muholongu Malumalu has two professions -- he is a Catholic priest and a political scientist fighting for accountability and effective governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The priest, who lives with clergy in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, is also president of the Independent Electoral Commission, a body charged with the education, logistics and implementation of all the details surrounding Congo's first election since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Father Malumalu told Catholic News Service May 5 he does not feel an internal conflict of interest between the two roles, but admits his time is dedicated solely to the electoral commission. The electoral commission has strict guidelines governing its staff of more than 1,900 and an additional 300,000 election workers, he said through a translator at the Missionaries of Africa house in Washington.

But, he added, the Congolese, who mostly "personalize power" and have an immature political aptitude after decades of "dictatorship and arbitrary leaders," pull the so-called "Catholic card," blaming him and the church when the electoral commission makes major decisions that are not well-received.

The electoral commission educates the Congolese about politics and government, the priest said, because their misunderstanding of electoral politics makes them vulnerable to manipulation by warlords, local militias and other corrupt political leaders vying for power in the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for July 30.

"Political actors are going to try to manipulate the people and not tell the truth" about what policies they support and about what they represent, he said.

Father Malumalu said the electoral commission had developed small guidebooks and education programs and has taught lessons about what the constitution mandates and what the separation of powers means through songs and popular theater productions.

"The Catholic Church has the best and clearest program," he added.

Unfortunately, he said, the electoral commission often has to re-educate districts after political parties infiltrate them and confuse voters.

Inept security is a major logistical challenge for the electoral commission, which is funded by many sources, including U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congolese government.

Each day, 1,000 people die due to causes related to the Congolese civil war that pits the interim government against militias from within Congo and from neighboring states in the Great Lakes region, where countries' internal conflicts often spill over borders.

First, the ballots are printed in South Africa -- a feat that will take 32 days, said Franciscan Father Michael Perry, who works with Franciscans International and accompanied Father MaluMalu in Washington. Then, the ballots are allocated to about 14 distribution centers, which are to be secured by the U.N. and national police, he said. About 600 voters can vote per polling station, he said, and about 10,000 polling stations will be sprinkled throughout the country that is about the same size as Western Europe.

Amid these procedures, the electoral commission needs to be flexible to keep up with new challenges, Father Malumalu said. For example, he said, the electoral commission has made special concessions for people displaced from their districts so that their vote will still count.

Even if the elections go off without a hitch, getting the voters to accept the results will be difficult -- as will getting the political actors to govern responsibly, he said.

"How are we going to get people used to using force to accept ... the ballot box?" he said. "We can't forget this election is coming upon the heels of armed conflict.

"Our political leaders have to learn how to be responsible to those who voted them in," Father Malumalu said, then added: "The true victory is people choosing for themselves. The outcome, we hope, is to finally put an end" to dictatorship.

Father Malumalu told CNS he hopes the new government will resolve problems in the Congolese health and education system and with unemployed youth.

The priest said that in his diocese, 90 percent of the schools were founded and are run by the Catholic Church, and 70 percent of all health services are run by the Catholic Church.

"The state has abandoned its political responsibilities ... the government has laid these responsibilities on churches and civil society," he said. "It's enormous what the Catholic Church does."

END


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