Congo Opposition Leader Is Surprise Winner of Presidential Vote

Minnie Murray
January 11, 2019

"The Chairperson of the Commission reiterates his congratulations to the people, political actors, civil society and the relevant national institutions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the conduct of the elections under conditions deemed satisfactory by the African Union Election Observation Mission led by President Dioncounda Traoré", the statement stated.

The latest indications are that provisional results will be now be released at about 22:00 GMT.

But his opposition rival Martin Fayulu immediately cried foul, branding the results "an electoral coup".

"If we find that the results of the catholic church are not the same as those of the electoral commission we will know there was a change of plan", said Stephanie Wolters at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

By last night at least four people, including two police officers, had been killed in skirmishes caused by the announcement that Félix Tshisekedi, 55, the opposition leader, had won the election held on December 30.

Losing candidates, including Fayulu and Shadary, can contest the results before Congo's constitutional court, which has 10 days to hear and rule on any challenges. He denounced the official vote results as "rigged" and called on people to "rise as one man to protect victory".

The Catholic Church has always been pressing for the departure of President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2001, and who has stayed in power as caretaker leader even though his second and final elected term ended in December 2016.

An official from the from U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said Tshisekedi's win might buy some temporary calm but that "the exiled and cheated will rebel", referring to ex-militia and political leaders who are backing Fayulu.

Given that Kabila was reluctant to leave office after the Constitution required that he do so, many believed he would ensure that Shadary was elected.

Foreign leaders reacted cautiously to the outcome of DR Congo's presidential election Thursday, with many choosing not to congratulate the man declared victor and appealing for disputes to be settled peacefully. Tshisekedi won the election amid concerns of vote-rigging. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing.

Tshisekedi "owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila's control of the electoral commission", and in exchange Kabila would look for immunity from any prosecution or asset seizure after handing over power, Besseling said. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms, but until he announced a year ago that he would step aside many Congolese feared he'd find a way to stay in office.

"This is the coronation of a lifetime", said the deputy secretary-general of Tshisekedi's party, Rubens Mikindo. "They will not steal victory from Martin Fayulu", he said.

Residents of the capital, Kinshasa, said the heavy security presence was a bad sign, with some recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.

Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and standing behind his outspoken father.

Spokesmen for Shadary and the other top opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, have indicated that their candidates won.

"I deplore all the disorder", Tshisekedi said.

By breaking away from the opposition coalition supporting Fayulu, Tshisekedi "positioned himself to bargain with the regime", Englebert wrote. "This is the beginning of national reconciliation".

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