BENI, Congo (AP) — Voters who were not given the chance to take part in Congo’s presidential election because of the Ebola epidemic and violence cast legislative ballots Sunday amid continuing resentment.
Residents in eastern Congo’s cities of Beni and Butembo were not included in the January presidential vote. At the time government officials said the decision was made because of Ebola, although the current outbreak remains a threat, with the number of cases still increasing this past week.
Voters had to wash their hands before entering polling stations Sunday in an effort to prevent disease transmission. Ebola, a highly deadly virus, is transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of sick people.
Malikidogo Kathembo, a 48-year-old farmer, cast his ballot in Beni for national and regional legislatures though he remains upset about what happened in January. Kathembo remains skeptical about the reason given for preventing the people of Beni from voting in the presidential election.
“We voted today in spite of Ebola so why did they refuse (in January) to let us vote?” he asked. “I think it was a political move to block us out.”
Polling stations also were open in Butembo, now the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic that is now the second deadliest in history with more than 1,000 deaths. And voters could take part Sunday as well in Yumbi, where the January vote was called off because of intercommunal violence.
The decision to cancel the presidential elections in areas hit by Ebola only further deepened the suspicion that the epidemic was being used for political or financial gain, observers say. Health workers have struggled to get sick people to seek treatment in health centers, resulting in those with Ebola infecting others as a result.
A study published last week in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found that one-fourth of the people surveyed back in September in Beni and Butembo believed Ebola wasn’t real.
Associated Press writers Saleh Mwanamilongo in New York and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.