DRC opposition chief wins vote as rival, church cry foul

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KINSHASA, Jan 11, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was
on Thursday declared winner of DR Congo’s presidential election, but his
victory was dismissed by the runner-up and questioned by the Catholic church,
clouding the vote’s legitimacy and hopes of peace.

In a pre-dawn announcement, election officials named Tshisekedi, son of the
country’s long-term opposition leader, provisional winner of the troubled
vote to replace President Joseph Kabila.

The news brought thousands of supporters onto the streets while others who
had backed his opposition rival Martin Fayulu came out in protest. Four
people died in unrest.

Fayulu, who came a close second, denounced the result as an “electoral
coup”. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s influential Catholic church also
said Tshisekedi’s victory did not tally with data collected by its own
monitors.

“These results have nothing to do with the truth at the ballot box,” Fayulu
told Radio France International.

“They have stolen the Congolese people’s victory and the people will never
accept that.”

At stake is political stewardship of the notoriously unstable central
African nation, which has never known a peaceful transition of power since
independence from Belgium in 1960.

Election chief Corneille Nangaa declared Tshisekedi the winner with 38.57
percent of the 30 December vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.

Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came a distant
third with 23.8 percent.

Results of parliamentary elections, which were held alongside the
presidential vote, are expected on Friday evening and the pro-Kabila majority
are already claiming to have won the house.

The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila,
were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the
result lacks credibility.

Two civilians and two policemen were killed Thursday and another 10 people
injured when a protest erupted in the western city of Kikwit, a Fayulu
stronghold, police said.

– Wild celebrations –

In Kinshasa, thousands of people converged upon the headquarters of
Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the country’s
oldest and largest opposition party, singing and dancing at his surprise
victory.

Pouring onto the streets, they celebrated wildly, cheering and honking car
horns in scenes of joy that lasted into the morning under the bemused eye of
the security forces who had fanned out across the capital.

In his first remarks after the result, the portly 55-year-old, who has
never held high office or even a managerial role, immediately pledged to work
closely with Kabila.

“Today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather as a partner
for democratic change in our country,” he told supporters.

But elsewhere in Kinshasa, the mood was sombre, with representatives of the
Catholic church openly disputing the figures released by the Independent
National Election Commission (CENI).

“The result of the presidential election as published by CENI does not
correspond with the data collected by our observer mission from polling
stations and counting centres,” said Father Donatien Nshole, spokesman for
CENCO, which represents the country’s Catholic bishops.

The Church has long been pressing for the departure of Kabila, who has
ruled the country with an iron fist since 2001, well beyond the limit of his
second and final term in December 2016.

– Calls for calm –

Abroad, the mood was watchful, marked by a noticeable lack of
congratulations for Tshisekedi.

Many have eyed the developments in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country
with concern, with the United Nations leading calls to avoid violence.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian dismissed Tshisekedi’s victory
as “not consistent” with the actual results, indicating that Fayulu had won,
while the US State Department demanded “clarification” over the result and
urged “all stakeholders to remain calm”.

The African Union said it “took note” of the result and warned any dispute
over the outcome should be “resolved peacefully”.

The European Union said it was awaiting clarification from international
observers.

In contrast, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged “all regional
and international interested parties to refrain from speculation” and let the
election board complete its work.

The announcement of an opposition win was a shock as many had expected the
results to be stacked in Shadary’s favour, prompting heavy international
pressure on Kinshasa to respect the wishes of the electorate.

– ‘Tshisekedi debt to Kabila’ –

The vast central African country has been increasingly on edge over the
long-delayed vote.

Kabila’s hold on power has sparked a political crisis and protests that
were bloodily repressed.

“Kabila did not want to risk announcing Shadary as the winner, which would
have triggered violent protests and international condemnation,” said Robert
Besseling, executive director of risk consultancy EXX Africa.

“Instead, he chose to split the opposition by creating a power-sharing deal
with Tshisekedi.”

Tshisekedi “owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the
electoral commission”, and in exchange Kabila would look for immunity from
any prosecution or asset seizure after handing over power, Besseling said.

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