YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Some 40 million voters will go to the polls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday in a land-mark presidential election that will end the 17-year presidency of Joseph Kabila.

Over 20 candidates are running to replace Kabila, with the president’s hand-picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary seen as the front-runner.

The election campaign has been tense, with at least six people killed in opposition rallies.

Father Donatien Nsholé, the Secretary General of the Congo bishops’ conference, says the bishops are “concerned but optimistic” about the election.

“Violence has effectively disturbed the electoral campaign; there have even been deaths in Lumumbashi [in Upper Katanga Province]. It’s regrettable,” Nshole said in an interview with the Swiss catholic news portal, cath.ch.

“It’s a very tense and passionate campaign, but the violence doesn’t fundamentally put into question the electoral process,” he said.

The priest’s assessment is less alarmist than that of the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

On Dec. 14, she said she was “deeply worried about the reports of excessive use of force, including live ammunition, by security forces against opposition rallies.”

“Just days ahead of crucial elections in the DRC, it is essential that the authorities ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fully protected and that they take all possible measures to prevent violence,” Bachelet said.

However, Nsholé said he didn’t think “that the situation will degenerate.”

He said significant progress had been made in the country’s electoral process, including a resolution of a controversy surrounding the electronic voting machines that were going to be used in the election.

“They will be used to identify voters and to print the ballots,” he said.

Over 80 percent of the machines in the capital were destroyed in a fire on Dec. 13, necessitating the use of paper ballots.

“The election will take place through the use of ballots; it’s a good thing. We were fearful that electronic voting could lead to the distortion of the results, given that the machines are not trust-worthy,” the priest said.

The plan to use the electronic voting machines had sparked protests across the country, with opposition candidates like Felix Tshisekedi saying it was a passport for electoral fraud.

Even the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called on the use of paper ballots, calling them “trusted, tested, transparent, and easy-to-use.”

Nsholé said coming to a consensus over the machines is a significant step in the country’s electoral process.

He also talked about observers of the Justice and Peace Commission of the bishops’ conference, saying that after a long wait, they have finally been accredited, and will be deployed throughout the national territory.

“Our observers, trained a long time ago, are now training personnel who will be present in voting booths on Dec. 23,” the priest said.

Nsholé also noted that progress had been made in educating the electorate on their civic responsibility, particularly on their right to vote. Over 16 million people received voter training.

“In our view, it is one of the most important projects we carried out ahead of the elections,” he said.

Although Nsholé is confident that the elections will take place with few problems, there are still questions about how the ballots will be counted and reported.

“The National Independent Electoral Commission, CENI, claims it can give the results in 48 hours. We have to wait until December 25 to see the exit polls,” he said. The priest said the results should reflect the will of the Congolese people, otherwise “we would have lost everything. It would be a catastrophe.”

“Our observers will have access to results that will be transmitted to the CENI. They will thus be able to confirm if the results conform to what they observed in the voting booths,” Nsholé said.

Besides voting for president, the Congolese people will also be electing some 500 members of the National Assembly as well as 780 members of the 26 Provincial assemblies.

The elections were initially scheduled to take place on November 27, 2016 with Kabila’s second and final term set to expire by December that year. They were delayed, with a broken promise to hold them by the end of 2017, as Kabila clung to power.

Kabila has been in power since 2001, taking over from his father Laurent Kabila, who ruled the country from 1997-2001, when he was shot by his own bodyguard.

The president will not be on the ticket this time – but has promised he could seek a comeback in 2023.