DRC tense after poll results delay

DRC's President Joseph Kabila speaks during a Reuters interview at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa, DRC, December 9 2018.
DRC's President Joseph Kabila speaks during a Reuters interview at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa, DRC, December 9 2018.
Image: REUTERS/Benoit Nyemba

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officials on Saturday delayed the announcement of preliminary results from a crucial presidential election, amid growing pressure from world powers and the influential Catholic Church to respect voters’ wishes.

Preliminary results, scheduled for release on Sunday, will now come out only next week, the head of the country’s electoral commission, Ceni, said just hours before the deadline.

“It is not possible to publish the results on Sunday. We are making progress, but we do not have everything yet,” Corneille Nangaa said, without announcing a new date.

The country’s powerful National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco), which represents the country’s Catholic bishops, warned that popular anger could result if the final result were not true to the verdict of the ballot box.

The DRC’s Catholic Church, which provided more than 40,000 election observers, had said on Thursday it knew who had won the vote, but did not name him.

In a letter to Nangaa on Saturday, Cenco president Marcel Utembi said that, given the delay, “if there is a popular uprising it would be the responsibility of Ceni”.

The December 30 vote saw 21 candidates run to replace President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the conflict-ridden country for almost 18 years.

Among the frontrunners were Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and two opposition candidates – veteran heavyweight Felix Tshisekedi and newcomer Martin Fayulu.

The election, preceded by repeated delays, was carried out relatively peacefully.

But tensions have built over the lengthy counting process, amid fears the results could be manipulated to install Kabilabacked Shadary in power.

The electoral commission had promised to announce preliminary results on Sunday, followed by a definitive count on January 15.

But Nangaa said just under half of ballots had been counted by Saturday afternoon, adding: “Next week, we will announce.”

The further delay could stoke tension in the unstable nation of 80 million.

Nangaa has blamed the slow count on massive logistical problems in a country the size of Western Europe with poor infrastructure.

Since the vote, the authorities have cut internet access and blocked broadcasts by Radio France Internationale, causing widespread frustration.

With international concerns growing over the transfer of power in Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest nation, Western powers have upped the pressure.

The United States and the European Union urged Kinshasa to ensure a peaceful change of power.

Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States was sending about 80 troops to Gabon to deploy in the event of election-related unrest in DR Congo.

The African Union, which sent an 80-member team to monitor the vote, insisted that respecting voters’ wishes was crucial.

And Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of the DR Congo’s western neighbour, the Republic of Congo, urged restraint in uncertain times to “safeguard peace and stability in this brother country”.

Nangaa wrote to Cenco head Utembi on Friday accusing the episcopal conference of putting out partial result trends designed to intoxicate the population in preparing an uprising, an accusation Utembi turned on its head with Saturday’s letter in response.

In his letter, Nangaa warned Cenco would alone be responsible for unrest after disseminating “insignificant and partial data”.

The ruling FCC coalition accused Cenco of seriously breaching the constitution and electoral law by illegally declaring voting trends in favour of a given candidate.

The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many feared a repeat if the results this time round were placed in doubt.

In 2006, Kabila defeated former warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba in a violence-tainted poll.

Five years later, he was reelected in another vote blighted by bloodshed, chaotic organisation and alleged irregularities.

The opposition rejected the results.

Between 1996 and 2003, DR Congo lived through two fullyfledged wars that claimed millions of lives due to fighting, starvation, and disease.