Congo Delays Presidential-Election Results Beyond Deadline

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo delayed the release of provisional results from last week’s presidential election as criticism of the country’s handling of the vote grew.

Congolese went to the polls Dec. 30 to find a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who’s ruled since 2001, in an election that was already two years overdue. The central African nation hasn’t had a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium almost five decades ago.

The National Independent Electoral Commission, known as CENI, announced the delay on Saturday, the day before the results were scheduled to be released. CENI President Corneille Nangaa told reporters on Sunday that only 53 percent of ballots from polling stations have reached counting centers. He didn’t say when provisional results will be announced.

Martin Fayulu, an opposition presidential candidate who heads a coalition known as Lamuka, had urged the authorities Saturday to avoid delaying the result’s announcement.

Congo Delays Presidential-Election Results Beyond Deadline

‘Significantly Marred’

CENI should “quickly announce the results” as they were recorded at the country’s almost 75,000 polling stations, Pierre Lumbi, Fayulu’s campaign director, told reporters in the capital, Kinshasa.

“The Lamuka coalition warns CENI against any attempt to modify the results which were posted on the polling stations and will hold it responsible for all consequences which would result from this situation,” Lumbi said.

The U.S. State Department this week criticized CENI for denying accreditation to several foreign election observers and media to monitor the vote. Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a report Saturday the vote was significantly marred by “widespread irregularities, voter suppression and violence.”

The body that represents Congo’s Catholic bishops said on Thursday the results collected on election day by its 40,000-strong observer mission showed there was a clear winner, without identifying the person. The election is a three-way contest between Kabila’s protege, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and two main opposition candidates -- Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi.

Internet Cut

The government has tried to limit speculation about the outcome of the election by cutting off the internet the day after the vote and warning media that only CENI is allowed to publish results.

The Catholic organization, known as CENCO, determined that Fayulu won the election, the New York Times reported on Saturday, citing Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to Kabila, and an unidentified Western official. Government spokesman Lambert Mende said the article was part of “neo-colonialist and imperialist escapades” by Western interests.

Congo Delays Presidential-Election Results Beyond Deadline

“It’s a flagrant attempt to capture the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an attempt to control the process in order to capture and orient it,” Mende said by phone on Saturday. “They have tried to impose on us the people who want to come to perpetuate the imperialist order, but we take note of this attempt and we’ll make sure it fails.”

Mende, who’s also a spokesman for Shadary’s campaign, said the Catholic Church has “always played the game here in favor of the colonialists and then the neo-colonialists.” Shadary’s coalition is awaiting CENI’s announcement of the official results as prescribed by the constitution and Congolese law, he said.

Risk of Revolt

CENI and Shadary’s alliance, the Common Front for the Congo, have accused CENCO of violating the constitution and the law by announcing it already knows who has won. CENI claimed in a letter to the Catholic body that its declaration risks sparking a revolt. CENCO’s president, Archbishop Marcel Utembi, replied in a Jan. 5 letter to CENI that it’s “irregularities which annoy the population.”

He warned that any publication of results that “do not conform to the truth of the ballot box” could spark an uprising.

The U.S. has deployed 80 troops with combat equipment and supported by military aircraft to nearby Gabon to support U.S. Embassy staff and citizens in Kinshasa in case violent demonstrations erupt, President Donald Trump said in a letter to congressional leaders on Friday. Additional forces may be deployed if necessary, he said.

Congo Delays Presidential-Election Results Beyond Deadline

African observers have endorsed the vote.

The elections “were relatively well managed and the electoral process unfolded relatively well,” the observer mission of the Southern African Development Community said in a preliminary report Wednesday. A team from the African Union said the vote took place “overall in a peaceful and serene climate.”

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