UNITED NATIONS– The UN Security Council underscored the importance of the Dec 23 elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and called for efforts to make the electoral process successful.

In a press statement issued right before the start of the official electoral campaign, the Security Council said the elections constitute “a historic opportunity” for the first democratic and peaceful transfer of power, the consolidation of stability and the creation of the conditions for development in the DRC.

It called on all political parties, supporters, and other political actors to remain fully committed to the Congolese Constitution, the Dec 31, 2016 Agreement and the electoral timeline, which together represent the only viable path out of the current political situation.

The Security Council urged all parties, government and opposition, to engage peacefully and constructively in the electoral process, in order to ensure transparent, peaceful and credible elections and to preserve peace and stability in the DRC and the region.

Meanwhile, it asked to ensure the safety and security of candidates and voters during the campaign period.

It also asked to put into place confidence-building measures, such as liberalizing further political space in the DRC, releasing detained members of the political opposition and of civil society, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms such as freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, and the right of peaceful assembly.

The Security Council urged all parties to continue to reject violence, exercise maximum restraint in their actions and statements by refraining from provocations such as violence and hate-speeches and to address their differences peacefully.

And it called on the international community and neighboring governments to actively support the electoral process in the DRC and to take active steps to prevent any external actions, which would interfere negatively on the election process, its outcome or its legitimacy.

The council members encouraged all Congolese stakeholders to create all necessary conditions to ensure a violence-free environment conducive to the peaceful conduct of political activities, to ensure that the elections take place with the requisite conditions of transparency and credibility.

They reiterated their condemnation of all armed groups active in the DRC. They demanded that all armed groups cease immediately all forms of violence, and to immediately and permanently disband and lay down their arms.

DRC’s elections were long overdue. The Dec 31, 2016 Agreement allowed President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power since 2001, to stay on after his term of office expired, on the condition that elections would be held within 2017.

But elections were delayed on the grounds of logistics. On Nov 5, 2017, the country’s electoral commission published an electoral calendar for the combined presidential, legislative and provincial elections for Dec 23, 2018.