NAIROBI, Kenya (CWR) – Some observers have viewed the latest elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a new dawn for the troubled country that has never enjoyed a peaceful transfer of power since its independence from Belgium in 1960.
On January 10th, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that Felix Tshisekedi, one of the main opposition leaders, as the winner in the polls. This was the outcome of the December 30th national election, through which the country was voting to find a successor to President Joseph Kabila who is relinquishing power after 18 years as president.
If the election of Tshisekedi is confirmed on January 15, he will replace the 47-year-old leader, who rose to the presidency in 2001 after the assassination of his father.
But Catholic bishops in the central African country have concerns about the voting and result, raising questions and charging that Tshisekedi’s win contradicts the findings electoral observers commissioned by the bishops’ conference.
“We find that the results of the presidential election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission,” said Archbishop Marcel Utembi of Kisangani and the President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) on January 10th.
40,000 observers had been deployed in polling stations, and call center was staffed with 400 agents. It center collected data which after analysis reportedly gave a different outcome from that of CENI.
Tshisekedi, who is the 55-year-old son of the veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi (who died in 2017), garnered 38.57 per cent, the equivalent of seven million votes. The politician leads the Union for Democracy and Social Change, the country’s largest opposition group, which he inherited from his father.
Martin Fayulu, a former businessman and seasoned politician, was placed second with 6.4 million votes. President Joseph Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, come a distant third with 4.4 million votes, in the result whose announcement had been postponed several times.
Over 40 million of the country over 80 million people had registered voters, but only 18 million turned out to vote. Nearly 40 percent of the Congolese people are Catholics.
Last week, Fr. Donatien Nshole, the general secretary of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), while saying the church knew who had won the election, cautioned CENI against publishing results that were to the contrary.
“Data in possession from the vote counting reports from polling stations designates the selection of one candidate as president,” said Nshole.
The statement attracted harsh criticisms from CENI and the government, which accused the bishop of setting-up the nation for violent protests. But the bishops responded by stating that irregularities and publishing misleading results would irritate the populations and possibly lead to violence.
“Therefore, if there is an uprising, CENI would be to blame,” said Utembi.
Still, with fears of violent protests, Utembi has asked the people to remain peaceful and shun actions that could ignite violence. He also wants those aggrieved by the election result channel their grievances through the courts in accordance with the constitution and the electoral law.
At the moment, Tshisekedi’s win has stirred celebrations in his strongholds, but doubts have spread in other regions with some observers and ordinary people fearing that the vote had been stolen. Some violence being reported in Fayulu’s strongholds, and there are reports that four people have been killed in protests of the election results.
However, with allegations of voter manipulation and fraud, there are fears that violence could intensify and spread further. In 2006 and 2011, Catholic bishops expressed doubts about the outcome of the elections won by Kabila, and subsequent disputes sparked violent post-election protests. Since 2003, the bishops have encouraged civic education to consolidate democracy in the country badly affected by war and bad governance.
The elections were to be held in 2016 when Kabila’s second and last term ended, but the leader clung to power, alleging that the country was not ready for the polls. That put the leader on a collision course with Catholic bishops, who have been keen to seek democracy and peace gain ground in the troubled country. With growing international pressure and a deal brokered by the Catholic bishops, Kabila agreed to leave power after an election.
Fayulu, who leads the Engagement for Citizenship and Development Party, has rejected the results as an “electoral coup.” He had enjoyed a wide lead in pre-election polls. According to various reports, diplomats who reviewed the Church’s observer mission data have suggested he had won the election. He called on the Catholic Church and its observer groups to release its findings and for his supporters to protest the results. Reuters has since reported that Fayulu will file a formal fraud complaint on Saturday, January 12th, in the nation’s Constitutional Court, which is the highest constitutional authority in Congo.
Emerging allegations suggest that Kabila and Tshisekedi struck a political deal. Tshisekedi’s side has not denied talking to Kabila, but explained that any communication was to ensure peaceful transfer of power.
Tshisekedi has sounded reconciliatory, saying he will be president for all Congolese people. He paid tribute to the outgoing president, stating he is a partner in DRC’s democratic change, rather than an adversary. Meanwhile, Congo remains a troubled nation plagued by a host of humanitarian crises, including the Ebola epidemic and deadly conflicts in the eastern parts of the country.
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