DRC election: Catholic church cries foul

Felix Tshisekedi was named the winner of the Democratic Republic of Congo's presidential election. 11 January 2019

Felix Tshisekedi was named the winner of the Democratic Republic of Congo's presidential election

The Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was on Thursday named the provisional victor of a long-awaited presidential poll paving the way for the crisis-hit country's first transfer of power in 18 years.

DR Congo's powerful Catholic Church says election results tallied by its observers do not match official results announced on Thursday by the country's election commission, which named Felix Tshisekedi as the surprise victor. But an observer mission from the Church's bishops conference (CENCO) told diplomats that its own tallies showed another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, winning.

The second-place victor, Fayulu, has not yet indicated whether he will contest the results.

"I pay tribute to President Joseph Kabila and today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather, a partner in democratic change in our country", Tshisekedi told a crowd of supporters at the headquarters of his UDPS party.

Fayulu can appeal the results to Congo's constitutional court but has not yet indicated whether he will. Congo's president says nothing can stop long-awaited elections from taking place even as fears mount of a possible delay. The conclusions of 40,000 observers deployed by the church on the day of the election are that he won.

With 7 million votes, or 38 percent, Tshisekedi outpaced Fayulu, another opposition frontrunner, who came in second with more than 6 million votes.

Leading opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, a Kinshasa lawmaker and businessman, has urged the electoral commission to announce the true results as quickly as possible and warned it not to "play with fire, it is very unsafe".

But election chief Corneille Nangaa declared Tshisekedi the victor with 38.57 percent of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent. She added, will the African Union "consider a power transfer "enough" or will they push for investigation and real result?"

Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition politician Martin Fayulu. 11 January 1610
Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition politician Martin Fayulu

Anti-government protests in towns and cities are likely under such delays, but of smaller size and duration than would probably occur in response to the (less likely) immediate announcement of a victory by Kabila's chosen successor or the outright invalidation of the 30 December results, which would respectively pose high and very high protest and riot risks.

Western skepticism is growing over the Democratic Republic of Congo's announced presidential election results, with France bluntly calling them inconsistent with other findings, and former colonial power Belgium planning to raise the matter at the United Nations Security Council on Friday. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing.

"Kabila will be able to influence Tshisekedi, who now owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila's control of the electoral commission", he said in an email.

The government has cut internet service since the day after the election to prevent speculation on social media about who won, and blocked some radio stations.

Many Congolese objected to Shadary, suspecting that he would allow Kabila to continue to rule from behind the scenes and protect his vast assets. "(.) The Congolese people will never accept that his victory be stolen".

Mr Fayulu admitted such a challenge would have little chance of success as the court was "composed of Kabila's people" but he said he did not want to give his opponents any chance to say he had not followed the law.

"The electoral victory of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi is highly surprising, but the decision makes sense in the context of DRC's political dynamics", said Robert Besseling of EXX Intelligence, a risk consultancy on Africa.

By breaking away from the opposition coalition supporting Fayulu, Tshisekedi "positioned himself to bargain with the regime", Englebert wrote.

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