Church rejects shock Congo poll verdict as loser declares it a coup
KINSHASA: The Catholic Church has rejected the official result of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election and the loser denounced a “coup”, dashing hopes the country could stage the first uncontested transfer of power in its 59 years of independence.
Electoral officials have proclaimed opposition figure Felix Tshisekedi the victor to replace Joseph Kabila, who has ruled Congo for 18 years.
Pre-election polls had predict- ed a landslide win for another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu.
Mr Fayulul is backed by exiled politicians and former militia leaders with influence in the violent east.
Mr Fayulu’s supporters say the authorities rigged the result on behalf of Mr Tshisekedi as part of a deal to protect figures from the outgoing administration.
At least four people were reported killed in demonstrations in one eastern city, although much of the rest of the country appeared calm.
The Catholic Church’s intervention could make it harder for Mr Tshisekedi to win broad acceptance as the first leader to come to power through the ballot box since prime minister Patrice Lumumba was overthrown in a coup less than three months after independence in 1960.
Congolese fear that a dispute over the poll could restart a cycle of violence in a country where civil wars causing hunger and disease have killed millions of people since the 1990s.
The Catholic Church is widely venerated across the country of 80 million and is believed to have accurate election data gathered by a 40,000-strong team of election observers, who tallied results displayed at individual polling stations.
While bishops stopped short of publishing their own results or saying who they believed was the true winner, they made clear it wasn’t Mr Tshisekedi, as declared by election commission CENI.
“The results from the presiden- tial election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from polling stations and vote counts,” the National Episcopal Conference of Congo said.
Three diplomats briefed on the church mission’s tally said it showed Mr Fayulu had won.
French Foreign Minister JeanYves Le Drian demanded clarity on results that were “the opposite to what we expected”.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted he was “very concerned” about discrepancies in the results and that the UN Security Council would discuss it.
Mr Fayulu, who has led antigovernment demonstrations and is seen as far more hostile to the outgoing administration than Mr Tshisekedi, said Mr Kabila had engineered an “electoral coup” to deny him the presidency.
In Kikwit, 500km from Kinshasa, crowds of Fayulu supporters attacked symbols of government and clashed with security forces.
Supporters of Felix Tshisekedi celebrate in Kinshasa