According to the constitution, the second and final term of President Kabila expired on 20 December 2016. General elections were originally scheduled for 27 November 2016, but were delayed with a promise to hold them by the end of 2017. This promise was subsequently broken, but after both international and internal pressure the elections were finally scheduled for 23 December 2018. They were, however, postponed for a week on 20 December 2018 due to a fire in the electoral commission's warehouse in Kinshasa destroying 8,000 electronic voting machines.
Preliminary results were scheduled to be announced on 6 January 2019, with the final result on 15 January and the inauguration of the next president on 18 January. However, it was later announced on 5 January that the publication of preliminary results would be delayed, as less than half of the votes have been obtained by the election commission. On 10 January the election commission declared Félix Tshisekedi, leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress opposition party, as the winner of the election.Martin Fayulu, who came in second, has claimed that the election was rigged and that he will challenge the result in the DRC's Constitutional Court. The country's influential Roman Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 election monitors, has also said the official result does not align with its observations, which place Fayulu as the winner. On 12 January it became known that parties supporting Joseph Kabila won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. The Constitutional Court announced on January 14 that it would review Fayulu's appeal of the result, and would make a ruling on January 19. On January 19, the Constitutional Court rejected Fayulu's challenge of the election results, upholding Tshisekedi's victory. Fayulu claims to be the "legitimate" president and is urging mass protests.
President Kabila promised a peaceful transfer of power to Tshisekedi, which would be the first since independence from Belgium in 1960.
On 29 September 2016, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that the elections would not be held until early 2018. According to CENI's vice president, the commission "hasn't called elections in 2016 because the number of voters isn't known." The announcement came ten days after deadly protests against Kabila in Kinshasa saw 17 people killed. The opposition alleged that Kabila intentionally delayed the elections to remain in power.
An agreement reached with the opposition in December 2016 allowed Kabila to stay in office with a requirement to hold elections by the end of 2017. However, on 7 July 2017, CENI President Corneille Nangaa said it would not be possible to organize presidential elections by the end of the year. Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi condemned the announcement on Twitter, saying Nangaa had "declared war on the Congolese people."
In November 2017 CENI announced that elections will be held in December 2018, after previously claiming earlier that month that elections could not be held until April 2019 due to the difficulties of registering voters in a country with underdeveloped infrastructure. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala confirmed in March 2018 that the election will occur in December.
According to the UN a total of 47 people had been killed at protests against President Kabila during this period, which occurred throughout 2017 and into 2018.
According to Human Rights Watch, government security forces used live rounds to disperse crowds of opposition supporters throughout August 2018, stating that the total death toll by then since 2015 was 300 people. HRW also documented attempts by the Congolese government to persecute members of the opposition, such as banning Moïse Katumbi from entering the country and forcefully dispersing a rally in support of Jean-Pierre Bemba.
In late December, the government further delayed voting in three cities affected by the 2018 Ebola outbreak as well as the ongoing military conflict until March 2019, while in all other regions it will still take place as scheduled on 30 December. The cities are Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province, and Yumbi in the western Mai-Ndombe province. This was criticized as these regions are known as opposition strongholds.