KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's election commission has set Nov. 27, 2016, for presidential and legislative elections, an election official said on Thursday, satisfying a key demand of the political opposition and international donors.
President Joseph Kabila, who has held power since his father's assassination in 2001 and won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011, is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term. But critics say he intends to cling to power beyond the end of his mandate next year.
Kabila has refused to comment on his future, saying it is a distraction from his political agenda. A government spokesman has said that the president intends to respect the constitution.
Congo has not experienced a peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960. Protests erupted last month, killing at least 42 people and forcing lawmakers to drop an electoral reform bill that the opposition said was aimed at keeping Kabila in power.
Presidential and legislative elections will be held on Nov. 27, 2016, according to an election calendar presented to government and diplomatic officials in Kinshasa by Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) official Jean-Pierre Kalamba. The new president is scheduled to be sworn in on Dec. 20, 2016.
The election commission also announced the dates for a slew of other local and provincial elections set to take place in 2015 and 2016.
Kabila's opponents say they are concerned that the government will use technical delays, including a lack of funds, to justify postponing the presidential election.
During a visit this week to Kinshasa, the U.S. special envoy to Afria's Great Lakes region, Russ Feingold, said financing was "no excuse" not to hold the presidential election on time. He noted that the U.S. has already committed $20 million to the elections.
Other donors have been waiting for the government to meet certain benchmarks, including the publication of the election calendar, before releasing funding.
The Congolese government has said that it intends to finance most of the election itself. Government spokesman Lambert Mende said last week that he thought the polls could be funded "without a lot of difficulty."
Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Larry King