DRC on the edge again

CATHOLIC CHURCH OB­SERVERS’ DATA SHOWS FAYULU WON UN peace­keep­ing depart­ment of­fi­cial says present rel­a­tive calm will not last.

The Citizen (KZN) - - NEWS - Kin­shasa

The Catholic Church on Thurs­day re­jected the of­fi­cial re­sult 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 pro­claimed op­po­si­tion fig­ure Felix Tshisekedi the vic­tor of the poll to re­place Joseph Ka­bila, who has ruled the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo for 18 years.

Pre-elec­tion polls had pre­dicted a land­slide win for an­other op­po­si­tion leader, Martin Fayulu, who is backed by pow­er­ful ex­iled politi­cians and for­mer mili­tia lead­ers with in­flu­ence in the vi­o­lent east. His sup­port­ers said the au­thor­i­ties rigged the re­sult on be­half of 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, but much of the rest of the coun­try ap­peared calm.

Tshisekedi’s sup­port­ers cel­e­brated his vic­tory. But Thurs­day’s in­ter­ven­tion by the Catholic Church could make it harder for him to win broad ac­cep­tance as the first leader to come to power through the bal­lot box since Prime Min­is­ter Patrice Lu­mumba was ousted in a coup in 1960.

Con­golese fear a dis­pute over the poll could restart a cy­cle of vi­o­lence in a coun­try where civil wars caus­ing hunger and dis­ease have killed mil­lions 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 it clear it wasn’t Tshisekedi, as de­clared by elec­tion com­mis­sion Ceni. “The re­sults from the pres­i­den­tial 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 ob­servers said.

Three diplo­mats briefed on the Church mis­sion’s tally said it showed Fayulu had won.

France and for­mer colo­nial power Bel­gium also ex­pressed doubt. French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian de­manded clar­ity on re­sults “which are the op­po­site of what we ex­pected”.

Bri­tain’s for­eign sec­re­tary tweeted that he was “very con­cerned about dis­crep­an­cies” in the re­sults and that the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil would dis­cuss it. The US state depart­ment said it awaits “clar­i­fi­ca­tion of ques­tions which have been raised re­gard­ing the elec­toral count”.

Fayulu, who has led antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions and is seen as far more hos­tile to the outgoing ad­min­is­tra­tion than op­po­si­tion ri­val Tshisekedi, said Ka­bila had en­gi­neered an “elec­toral coup” to deny him the pres­i­dency.

In the city of Kik­wit, 500km from the cap­i­tal Kin­shasa, crowds of Fayulu sup­port­ers at­tacked sym­bols of govern­ment and clashed with se­cu­rity forces. Four peo­ple were killed, Kik­wit’s mayor, Leonard Mu­tangu, said.

There were cel­e­bra­tions in parts of Kin­shasa and the south of the coun­try, where Tshisekedi has broad sup­port. Towns in Katanga, the south­east­ern min­ing heart­land, were calm.

Protests were re­ported in the eastern city of Kisan­gani, and Fayulu sup­port­ers vented their frus­tra­tions. “We will never ac­cept this nom­i­na­tion. It’s not a vic­tory for Felix. Ceni has ap­pointed him,” said Ge­orges Bingi, a mem­ber of Fayulu’s party in Goma.

Fayulu may ap­peal to Congo’s con­sti­tu­tional court.

Fayulu sup­port­ers say Ka­bila made a deal with Tshisekedi af­ter Ka­bila’s hand-picked can­di­date, Em­manuel Ra­mazani Shadary, failed to gain enough sup­port to be a cred­i­ble win­ner. Shadary con­ceded fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the re­sults.

Ka­bila has ruled since the 2001 as­sas­si­na­tion of his father, Lau­rent Ka­bila, whose vic­tory in a 1996-1997 civil war ended three decades of rule by dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko. Ka­bila says he wants to stay in pol­i­tics and may run again in 2023, when he will no longer be barred by term lim­its.

Tshisekedi in­her­ited the lead­er­ship of his UDPS party when his father Eti­enne Tshisekedi died in 2017. But he lacks the ex­pe­ri­ence, po­lit­i­cal clout and fire­brand rep­u­ta­tion his father earned as a lead­ing op­po­si­tion fig­ure since the Mobutu era.

A UN depart­ment of peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions of­fi­cial said Tshisekedi’s win might buy tem­po­rary calm, but that “the ex­iled and cheated will rebel”, re­fer­ring to ex-mili­tia and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers back­ing Fayulu.

“Tshisekedi has no ca­pac­ity to rule, no way of con­trol­ling the army or min­is­te­rial ap­point­ments. He will do as told, gun to his head,” the of­fi­cial said.

In the run-up to the re­sults, Tshisekedi said Ka­bila had noth­ing to fear should he come to power. Fayulu, by con­trast, is backed by ex-rebel Jean-Pierre Bemba and for­mer gover­nor Moise Ka­tumbi, two of Ka­bila’s fiercest ri­vals. Any es­ca­la­tion from the Fayulu camp risks ig­nit­ing Congo’s cy­cle of un­rest. –

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