By Aaron Ross
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese overwhelmingly oppose changing the constitution to allow President Joseph Kabila to stand for a third term and believe he should step down at the end of his mandate in December, according to a opinion poll published on Tuesday.
Democratic Republic of Congo's ruling coalition and part of the opposition have agreed to delay the vote from this November to April 2018, citing difficulties enrolling millions of voters
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But the main opposition bloc rejects the accord, saying it allows Kabila to cling to power and remove constitutional term limits.
The poll, conducted by the Congo Research Group at New York University in collaboration with a Congolese polling institute, sampled 7,545 respondents in Congo's 26 provinces in face-to-face interviews between May and September.
Over 81 percent of the respondents oppose changing the constitution to allow Kabila to stand for a third term. Seventy-four percent say he should leave office this year.
If the presidential election were held today, 33 percent said they would vote for former provincial governor Moise Katumbi, 18 percent for opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and 7.8 percent for Kabila. Kabila registered a 44 percent approval rating. Katumbi and Tshisekedi received 85.8 and 65.3 percent ratings respectively.
The results, which varied little based on socio-economic status, gender and religion, show a marked drop in support for Kabila, who officially won 48.9 percent of the vote in 2011, a consequence of a lack of economic development and poor security.
Exhaustive surveys are almost non-existent in Congo, where poor roads and little electricity make polling difficult or unreliable. The Congo Research Group said its poll had a margin of error of 5 percent.
Katumbi, the multi-millionaire former governor of Congo's copper-mining region, declared his candidacy for president in May but was then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison for real estate fraud.
Tshisekedi, the 83-year-old president of Congo's largest opposition party, finished runner-up to Kabila in the 2011 election, which observers said was marred by fraud.
Congo is Africa's largest copper producer but ranks 176 out of 188 countries on the U.N. Human Development Index.
Over 48 percent of respondents said they would participate in protests if elections were rigged or delayed.
Congo has not experienced a peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960. Dozens were killed last month in demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa.
(This version of the story corrects paragraph 11 to show that number of countries surveyed in human development index is 188, not 189.)
(Reporting By Aaron Ross; editing by Edward McAllister, Larry King)