Furious supporters of the runner-up in Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election denounced Thursday’s results as a fix, while France said the outcome was at odds with what was seen on the ground.
The electoral commission (CENI) announced that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi had won the chaotic December 30 vote, edging ahead of another opposition candidate, businessman Martin Fayulu.
Fayulu called the results an “electoral coup” engineered by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to deny him the presidency.
Vote tallies collected by Congo’s Catholic Church showed Fayulu winning, according to two diplomats briefed on the findings.
Anger over the result and particularly the Fayulu camp’s suspicions that Tshisekedi won by cutting a power-sharing deal with Kabila, could cast a cloud over what is meant to be Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in 59 years of independence.
Tshisekedi’s camp acknowledged contact with Kabila’s representatives since the election but said they were aimed at ensuring a peaceful transition and denied there was a deal.
The streets of Kinshasa and other major cities appeared calm early on Thursday, but Fayulu supporters vented their frustrations.
“We will never accept this. It’s not a victory for Felix. CENI appointed him,” said Georges Bingi, a member of Fayulu’s ECIDE party in Goma. “They have stolen the victory of the people. We will not accept it.”
Fayulu can appeal the results to Congo’s constitutional court but has not yet indicated whether he plans to do so.
By contrast, the campaign of Kabila’s hand-picked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who finished a distant third, accepted CENI’s results.
“Of course we are not happy as our candidate lost but the Congolese people have chosen and democracy has triumphed. We believe in democratic and republican values,” Shadary spokesman Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told Reuters.
Tshisekedi’s win raises questions over the political future of Kabila, who has governed since his father’s assassination in 2001 and overstayed the official end of his mandate by two years.
Kabila said before the election he planned to remain involved in politics after stepping down and could not rule out running again for president in 2023, when he will no longer be term limited.
Any escalation in the Fayulu camp’s rhetoric or actions risks igniting a destabilising cycle of unrest, particularly in the volatile eastern borderlands where he enjoys strong support and militia groups are active.
Members of Tshisekedi’s UDPS party called the election a historic triumph in a struggle for democracy spearheaded by his father, the late Etienne Tshisekedi under three successive presidents.
“Today marks the liberation of the people. It is the democratic reality we sought for a long time,” said Simphora Biduaya, a candidate for provincial assembly in the east.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tshisekedi’s surprise victory contrasted with observations in the field.
“We must have clarity on these results, which are opposite to what we expected,” Le Drian told CNews. “The Catholic Church of Congo did its tally and announced different results.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “all stakeholders to refrain from violence and to channel any eventual electoral disputes through established institutional mechanisms”, his spokesman said.
If Tshisekedi’s victory is confirmed in the next 10 days by the constitutional court, he will become the first leader to take power at the ballot box since Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. He was toppled in a coup less than three months after independence in 1960 and killed four months later.