Ques­tions arise in Congo elec­tion

Ob­servers re­port sur­prise vic­tor ap­peared to lose in land­slide

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MATHILDE BOUS­SION

KIN­SHASA, Congo — Congo ap­peared ready to achieve its first peace­ful trans­fer of power with the sur­prise vic­tory Thursday of op­po­si­tion can­di­date Felix Tshisekedi, de­spite clear signs that a ri­val op­po­si­tion leader ac­tu­ally won in a land­slide.

With no ma­jor protests in the cap­i­tal and lim­ited vi­o­lence else­where in the vast Cen­tral African coun­try, the pop­u­la­tion seemed to ac­cept Tshisekedi’s win and the end to Pres­i­dent Joseph Ka­bila’s long and tur­bu­lent rule.

But a court chal­lenge to the re­sults could spin the coun­try into chaos, ob­servers warned.

The in­flu­en­tial Catholic Church, which de­ployed 40,000 ob­servers at polling sta­tions, said of­fi­cial re­sults did not match its find­ings, and diplo­mats briefed on them said ri­val op­po­si­tion can­di­date Martin Fayulu won eas­ily.

Two diplo­mats said all ma­jor elec­tion ob­ser­va­tion mis­sions, in­clud­ing those of the African Union and the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity, showed sim­i­lar re­sults to those of the Catholic Church. The diplo­mats spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to speak to the press.

Fayulu al­leges that Ka­bila en­gi­neered a back­room deal with the largely untested Tshisekedi to pro­tect his power base in a coun­try with stag­ger­ing min­eral wealth. An out­spo­ken cam­paigner against Congo’s wide­spread graft — it ranked 161th among 180 coun­tries in Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional’s lat­est in­dex — Fayulu de­nounced the of­fi­cial re­sults as “rob­bery.”

He called on peo­ple to “rise as one man to pro­tect vic­tory.”

As night fell, scores of po­lice with au­to­matic ri­fles and tear-gas launch­ers were po­si­tioned along a road in Kin­sha- sa lead­ing to the Kingabwa neigh­bor­hood, a Fayulu strong­hold.

One ve­hi­cle was filled with mil­i­tary per­son­nel in com­bat gear.

Congo’s pop­u­la­tion of 80 mil­lion re­mained largely calm. Some protest vi­o­lence was re­ported in Kik­wit, a Fayulu strong­hold, where po­lice said three peo­ple were killed. Po­lice also con­firmed “ag­i­ta­tions” in Congo’s third-largest city, Kisan­gani, but said they were quickly brought un­der con­trol.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether Fayulu would chal­lenge the elec­tion re­sults in court. Can­di­dates have two days af­ter the an­nounce­ment to file chal­lenges and the con­sti­tu­tional court has seven days to con­sider them be­fore re­sults are fi­nal.

Care­ful state­ments by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity did not con­grat­u­late Tshisekedi, merely tak­ing note of of­fi­cial re­sults and urg­ing peace and sta­bil­ity in a coun­try with lit­tle of it. Ob­servers ap­peared to be watch­ing for the re­ac­tions of Fayulu’s sup­port­ers.

Tshisekedi, who re­ceived 38 per­cent of the vote ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial re­sults, had not been widely con­sid­ered the lead­ing can­di­date. Long in the shadow of his fa­ther, the late op­po­si­tion leader Eti­enne, he star­tled Congo last year by break­ing away from the op­po­si­tion’s unity can­di­date, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

Fayulu, a for­mer Exxon man­ager and Kin­shasa law­maker, re­ceived 34 per­cent of the vote in the of­fi­cial re­sults. He was a vo­cal ac­tivist dur­ing the two-year de­lay in Congo’s elec­tion, in­sist­ing it was time for Ka­bila to go. Fayulu was backed by two pop­u­lar op­po­si­tion lead­ers barred by the govern­ment from run­ning.

Sev­eral Congo an­a­lysts agreed that it ap­peared Ka­bila made a quiet agree­ment with Tshisekedi, say­ing Fayulu would have posed more of a threat. Pierre En­gle­bert, a fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Africa Cen­ter, said Tshisekedi would be more malleable and might al­low Ka­bila’s net­work to con­tinue.

By break­ing away from the op­po­si­tion coali­tion supporting Fayulu, Tshisekedi “po­si­tioned him­self to bar­gain with the regime,” En­gle­bert wrote. “But if the his­tory of the Ka­bila regime and its tight con­trol on the state and its se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus are any in­di­ca­tion, the … new pres­i­dent-elect is likely to end up on the los­ing end of this bar­gain.”

Glee­ful Tshisekedi sup­port­ers who took to the streets in Kin­shasa said they were happy to see Ka­bila step down.

“This is the coro­na­tion of a life­time,” said the deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Tshisekedi’s party, Rubens Mikindo. “This is the be­gin­ning of na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Saleh Mwanamilongo, David Key­ton, An­drew Mel­drum and An­gela Charl­ton of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AP/JEROME DE­LAY

Sup­port­ers of Felix Tshisekedi cel­e­brate Thursday out­side his head­quar­ters in Kin­shasa, Congo.

Fayulu

Tshisekedi

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