South­ern African lead­ers call for vote re­count in Congo

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - GE­OF­FREY YORK AFRICA BUREAU CHIEF JOHANNESBURG

South­ern African lead­ers are call­ing for a vote re­count and a ne­go­ti­ated coali­tion gov­ern­ment in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, cast­ing more doubt over the dis­puted re­sults of the coun­try’s much-de­layed elec­tion.

A state­ment is­sued on Sun­day by Zam­bia on be­half of the gov­ern­ments of the South­ern African De­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) is an im­plicit recog­ni­tion of the lack of cred­i­bil­ity of the of­fi­cial elec­tion re­sults.

It noted the “strong ob­jec­tions” the of­fi­cial re­sults have pro­voked and called on all Con­golese lead­ers to “pur­sue a ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment for a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity” – sim­i­lar to the ne­go­ti­a­tions that led to coali­tion gov­ern­ments in Kenya and Zim­babwe after dis­puted elec­tions there in 2007 and 2008, re­spec­tively.

The SADC rep­re­sents 16 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Congo. Nor­mally, it takes a cau­tious ap­proach to elec­toral dis­putes, so its call for a re­count and a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment is sig­nif­i­cant.

The world has watched the Congo elec­tion closely, hop­ing for the first peace­ful and demo­cratic trans­fer of power in the his­tory of the min­eral-rich coun­try of 80 mil­ion peo­ple, which has been rav­aged by wars and re­bel­lions for most of the past two decades.

The run­ner-up in the Dec. 30 elec­tion, op­po­si­tion leader Martin Fayulu, has launched a le­gal chal­lenge of the elec­tion re­sults, ar­gu­ing it was bla­tantly rigged to deny him vic­tory. His sup­port­ers have taken to the streets in protest. Dozens of Con­golese sol­diers de­scended on his home in Kinshasa on Satur­day, al­legedly to pre­vent him from fil­ing his court chal­lenge.

Mr. Fayulu had an over­whelm­ing lead in pre-elec­tion opin­ion polls, yet Congo’s elec­tion com­mis­sion de­clared an­other op­po­si­tion leader, Felix Tshisekedi, the win­ner. Mr. Tshisekedi had re­port­edly been in se­cret ne­go­ti­a­tions with long-rul­ing Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila be­fore the re­sults were an­nounced.

The of­fi­cial re­sults had Mr. Tshisekedi re­ceiv­ing 39 per cent of the vote and Mr. Fayulu re­ceiv­ing 35 per cent.

Congo’s in­flu­en­tial Catholic bish­ops – who had the largest in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing group with about 40,000 ob­servers in vot­ing sta­tions on elec­tion day – have stated that Mr. Tshisekedi did not win the elec­tion, al­though they have yet to re­lease their own data. Their ob­servers are widely re­ported to have con­cluded Mr. Fayulu was the win­ner.

On Satur­day, fur­ther doubt was cast on the re­sults when the rul­ing party claimed it had won a ma­jor­ity of par­lia­men­tary seats – even though its can­di­date fin­ished third in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with just 24 per cent of the vote. With a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity, Mr. Ka­bila’s party would con­tinue to en­joy sub­stan­tial pow­ers, in­clud­ing the right to ap­point the prime min­is­ter.

In the state­ment on be­half of the SADC, Zam­bian Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu – who heads the SADC com­mit­tee on pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity – warned that Congo’s peace and se­cu­rity could be en­dan­gered un­less there is a swift re­sponse to the “el­e­ments of doubt” sur­round­ing the elec­tion.

“SADC has taken note of the strong doubts cast on the polls out­come by the Ro­man Catholic Church, … the op­po­si­tion La­muka coali­tion and other ob­servers, and there­fore feels a re­count would pro­vide the nec­es­sary re­as­sur­ance to both win­ners and losers,” the state­ment said.

“SADC there­fore en­cour­ages all par­ties to en­ter into a po­lit­i­cal process to­wards a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity in or­der to en­hance pub­lic con­fi­dence, build bridges and re­in­force demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.”

Sim­i­lar coali­tion gov­ern­ments were “very suc­cess­ful” in cre­at­ing sta­bil­ity and peace in Zim­babwe and Kenya in 2008 and in South Africa in 1994 after the end of apartheid, the state­ment added.

SADC said Mr. Lungu had spo­ken to the of­fi­cial win­ner, Mr. Tshisekedi, and other key Con­golese lead­ers be­fore is­su­ing the state­ment.

Mr. Fayulu, in a tweet on Sun­day, wel­comed the SADC state­ment. “It would be dan­ger­ous not to sup­port the demo­cratic process in the DRC,” he said. “We call on all par­ties to take their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to re­store the truth of polls.”

But, it re­mains un­clear whether Africa’s most in­flu­en­tial lead­ers sup­port a re­count. South African For­eign Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu, in a news con­fer­ence on Sun­day shortly be­fore the SADC state­ment was re­leased, made no men­tion of the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­count. In­stead, she said ev­ery­one should wait for the re­sults of Mr. Fayulu’s court chal­lenge.

It was also un­clear why the SADC is call­ing for a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment when it is also seek­ing a re­count, which might pro­duce a more widely ac­cepted re­sult.

Ms. Sisulu said a ne­go­ti­ated coali­tion gov­ern­ment might be “log­i­cal” and should be “con­sid­ered” by the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, but she em­pha­sized that she was not “pre­scrib­ing” it as the so­lu­tion.

She said the peo­ple of Congo might be “on the precipice of a new dawn” after suf­fer­ing “a great deal of pain” dur­ing the many years of war and vi­o­lence.

TONY KARUMBA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Sup­port­ers of can­di­date Martin Fayulu and his wife, Es­ther, hold po­lit­i­cal ban­ners in Kinshasa on Satur­day. Mr. Fayulu has le­gally chal­lenged the coun­try’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion re­sults.

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