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Plans for referendum well advanced, polls chairman says

BRUSSELS, 29 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - The man in charge of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was in Brussels on Monday to assure the Belgium government, which is providing him funding, that the first round of voting would take place as scheduled on 18 December.

The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Apollinaire Malu Malu, said ballot boxes were already in place. Distribution of ballot papers began last week, he said.

The first round of voting would be a referendum on a new constitution.

Some 9,300 polling stations would be set up across the country, which is roughly the size of Western Europe.

The DRC government is contributing US $40 million, or one-tenth of the total cost of the elections, estimated to be $432 million. The UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, is providing $103 million in logistical support while donors are providing the rest.

As of 27 November, 23.6 million people in the country had already registered to vote; about 75 percent of all potential voters, according to Pierre Verjans of the University of Liège, which is providing the Congolese parliament with technical support.

Malu Malu said registration would officially end on 10 December but would continue some days longer in he provinces of Equateur and Bandundu where registration started late.

The commission has publicised information about the draft constitution to voters, issuing a guide that has been translated into four languages, and advertising on radio and television.

However, Malu Malu said, "These endeavours were limited because of time constraints and our mandate which is to maintain neutrality."

He said voting might have to be extended for two days in some areas, as it would take place during the rainy season.

To ensure voting is conducted peacefully, MONUC's military component of would be needed, he said. He added that problems of insecurity remained in the provinces of Maniema, in northern Katanga and in the western areas of North and South Kivu.

For the presidential and parliamentary elections to proceed after the referendum, the national parliament would have to vote on an electoral law, Malu Malu said. The law would have to lay out rules by which votes are to be apportioned as well as financial aspects of the campaign, gender balance of candidates and candidates' access to the media, he said.

Discussions on the law are set to take place on 5 December during a plenary session of parliament.

However, Verjans said: "It all depends on the result of the referendum. If the result is no then there will have to be a new constitution and the whole process will have to start again."

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