A picture taken on October 25, 2015 in Brazzaville shows the ballots for a referendum on whether longtime President Denis Sassou Nguesso can seek a third term in office in the Republic of Congo.
KINSHASA – Congo&39;s next election will be delayed until at least July 2017, the election commission said on Saturday, allowing long-standing President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his mandate in December.
The election&39;s postponement due to funding shortages and delays in the registration of millions of new voters was expected. But it will likely fuel anti-Kabila street protests in which dozens of opposition activists have been arrested and killed since last year.
A campaign to register more than 30 million voters that started in March will take 16 months to complete, election commission president Corneille Nangaa told representatives of political parties on Saturday in the capital, Kinshasa.
Democratic Republic of Congo&39;s highest court ruled in May that Kabila could remain in office if his government failed to hold an election due in November.
"The issue before us today in Congo is how to reconcile the electoral cycle ... with the technical constraints we face," Nangaa said, referring to the logistical challenges of holding elections in a nation roughly the size of western Europe.
Kabila succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, then won his first election in 2006. The constitution requires he step down in December after two five-year terms, and opponents accuse him of stalling the election to cling on to power.
Mineral-rich Congo is plagued by militia violence in the east and has never experienced a peaceful transition of power.
About 40 demonstrators died in anti-government protests in January 2015 and opposition leaders plan further demonstrations if he does not stand down in December.
Kabila said earlier this month that a revised election timetable would only be published once a new voter registry is ready.
The government has said it prefers to hold local and provincial elections before the presidential poll, and some political analysts say that suggests Congolese will not go to the polls to choose Kabila&39;s successor until 2018 or 2019.
Opposition leaders fear Kabila will seek in the meantime to reform the constitution by holding a referendum to remove term limits and allow him to run for re-election, as the presidents of neighboring Rwanda and Congo Republic did last year.
Kabila has refused to rule out such a move. Instead, he has called for pre-election talks with opposition leaders.
In an apparent olive branch to the opposition, he agreed on Friday to release 24 jailed government critics. The move, which opposition leaders branded insufficient, may blunt international criticism of the government over its human rights record.