Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila addresses the nation at Palais du Peuple in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo April 5, 2017.
LONDON - An election in the Democratic Republic of Congo to replace President Joseph Kabila remains on course for late December, Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala says.
"I committed in front of our country&39;s representatives in May last year to ... bring the Congolese people to elections this year, and I confirm that in December this year the Congolese people will be brought to the ballot boxes," Tshibala told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday.
Repeated stalling of the election has raised tensions across the vast central African country, triggering street protests and encouraging armed rebellion.
Kabila was due to step down when his mandate expired at the end of 2016 but has so far refused to do so.
"There were setbacks that caused this delay," said Tshibala. "But this time our course is set for elections and they will take place on 23 December."
Tshibala, a former leading member of Congo&39;s main opposition coalition, was appointed by Kabila just under a year ago to head a transitional "unity" government tasked with organising the election. He is expected to be the opposition candidate in the election.
When asked about technical problems experienced by voting machines during recent testing in the capital, Kinshasa, Tshibala said: "Machines are a great revolution", adding they would help the election to run smoothly and in record time.
"We have taken all the precautions with the electoral commission for it to go well. It&39;s true that it&39;s a vast country... but that&39;s exactly why the voting machines will help improve the process."
Opponents of Kabila, who has ruled DR Congo since his father’s assassination in 2001, suspect he intends to delay elections repeatedly until he can organise a referendum to allow himself to stand for a third term, as his counterparts in neighbouring Congo Republic and Rwanda have done.
Kabila denies those charges, saying the election delays are due to challenges registering millions of voters and budgetary constraints.
DRC security forces have killed dozens of civilians in protests over election delays over the last two years. Worsening militia violence has meanwhile raised fears of a backslide toward the civil wars of the turn of the century that killed millions.
The country&39;s economic situation is still difficult. The central bank currently predicts inflation of 38 percent for the end of 2018, and Tshibala said the country is prepared to cooperate with international financial institutions.
"We are making an internal effort to improve tax collection and government receipts," said Tshibala.
"If we find ourselves in a difficult situation we won&39;t hesitate to speak to the international financial institutions to provide a supplement in order to improve our functioning as a state."
Congo, which is the same size as western Europe, has plentiful resources. It is Africa&39;s largest copper producer and is the source of more than half the world&39;s cobalt, a vital ingredient in mobile phone and electric vehicle batteries.
Its output jumped 15.5 percent last year and Kabila held a nearly-six hour meeting with international mining companies on Wednesday on new mining laws that will increase the country&39;s revenue.
"There will be a revision of the code to try and make it more attractive and fair to the DRC. There will be a compromise between us and the mining companies," Tshibala said.