KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo said it will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 20, 2023, kicking off a year of complex preparations in the vast Central African country, large parts of which are overrun by militia violence.
Announcing the date at a ceremony in Kinshasa on Saturday, the electoral body, CENI, outlined several challenges, including the logistics of transporting ballot materials thousands of miles, health concerns about Ebola and COVID-19, and unrest that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
But the government has pledged to stick to the timetable in the country of 80 million people.
"It is not a question of negotiating with the constitutional deadlines, it is a question of us of respecting them and consolidating our democracy," said government spokesman Patrick Muyaya.
He said that the election will cost about $600 million, more than $450 million of which has already been budgeted.
Election struggles are common in Congo. The last presidential poll, Congo's first democratic transition, was delayed by two years until it was finally held in December 2018. In that vote, President Felix Tshisekedi took over from his long-standing predecessor Joseph Kabila.
This time, similar challenges remain.
Candidates are expected to be announced in October next year, with a final list due in November. Tshisekedi is expected to run again and one likely challenger is Martin Fayulu, who claimed victory in the 2018 poll.
Presidents are limited to two terms under Congolese law.
Despite billions of dollars spent on one of the United Nations' largest peacekeeping forces, more than 120 armed groups continue to operate across the east, including M23 rebels, which Congo has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting. Kigali denies the accusations.
The M23 has staged a major offensive this year, seizing territory, forcing thousands of people from their homes.
(Reporting by Paul Lorgerie, Editing by Edward McAllister and Clelia Oziel)