Southern African leaders call for vote recount in Congo
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.
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.