Church in DRC urges pressure on electoral commission over disputed vote

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jan 14, 2019 / 10:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a disputed presidential election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the nation's bishops have asked the UN Security Council to push the election commission to publish data from the vote.

Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, president of the Congolese bishops' conference, told the UN Jan. 11 that the commission's announcement that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi had won the Dec. 30 election did not correspond with the result of Catholic vote monitors.

The AP reported that Archbishop Utembi said publishing the data will enable the candidates to compare their numbers with the commission's results.

“This might dispel doubts among the population as to the outcome and may therefore set minds at rest,” he added.

The Congolese bishops' conference hopes that the UN Security Council will ask stakeholders to “prioritize the path of truth and peace while awaiting the outcome,” in case of a challenge.

The National Election Commission has announced that Tshisekedi had won the presidential election with 38.6 percent of the vote, just surpassing another opposition leader, former oil executive Martin Fayulu, who had 34.8 percent.

The two major opposition candidates both finished well ahead of former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who had been officially backed by outgoing President Joseph Kabila but had never gained traction during the campaign.

The Congolese bishops’ conference did not say which candidate their data showed winning the vote. However, Fayulu has claimed that he is the rightful winner and has suggested that Tshisekedi had made a power-sharing deal with Kabila to rig the election.

Fayulu appealed to the Constitutional Court Jan. 12 asking for a recount of the votes.

The South African Development Community has called for the formation of a unity government, and backed Fayulu's call for a recount.

The electoral commission has also announced that a pro-Kabila coalition won a majority in the lower house of the legislature.

Kabila has spent the last 17 years in power. While the nation’s term limits required the president to leave office in 2016, he refused to step down.

The bishops of the country, who have played a key role in promoting democracy, had helped mediate the 2016 New Year’s Eve Agreement between the country’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders. Under the agreement Kabila was allowed to remain in office past his mandate, but agreed to step down after an election in 2018.

The bishops’ conference had also commissioned 40,000 election observers, who were sent to polling stations across the country to report on the election process.

In a Dec. 31 statement, the bishops’ conference had voiced concern about voting irregularities, including registered voters who were turned away from polling stations because their names were not on voting lists and election observers being expelled from polling stations by police officers.

Other election observers also reported irregularities including voting machine malfunctions, polling stations opening late, locations being changed on short notice, and an inability to cast votes privately, according to the BBC.

The bishops’ conference had delayed the release of its preliminary observation after internet connections and text message services were shut down across the country on Dec. 30.

Reuters has reported that observers from France and Belgium have also voiced doubts that Tshisekedi won the election, and three diplomats who had reviewed the Church’s observer mission data said Fayulu had won.

In his first remarks after his victory was announced, Tshisekedi promised to work closely with Kabila, AFP reported.

Tshisekedi, 55, leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, the country’s oldest and largest opposition party.

The 2018 election was a major test for the volatile nation, which has been plagued by political corruption, instability, and violence, and has never seen a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1960.

At least four people have been killed so far in scattered protests of the election results.

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