Congo’s Surprise Election Results Challenged by Catholic Church and Rivals

(Bloomberg) -- The first-ever win by an opposition presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being marred by claims by a rival and an influential Catholic Church body that Felix Tshisekedi’s victory wasn’t a fair reflection of the vote.

Official results show Tshisekedi, 55, beat the protege of outgoing President Joseph Kabila, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, to become leader of the world’s biggest cobalt producer. Fayulu called the outcome “an unacceptable electoral fraud,” while Tshisekedi’s party said its tally showed he won fairly. The Constitutional Court has the final word on the validity of the vote.

The National Episcopal Conference of the Congo said Thursday the electoral commission’s results “do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from polling and counting stations.” The conference previously said results gathered by its 40,000 observers showed a clear winner, without identifying the person.

The scion of long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died two years ago, Tshisekedi campaigned on pledges to clamp down on rampant corruption, enhance security and promote development.

“We now want to build Congo and develop the country,” Paul Tshilumbu, spokesman for Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress party, said by phone. “We want to fight poverty and establish the rule of law in a country where everyone respects the rules fixed by the constitution, where everyone is equal before the law.”

Tshisekedi also gave strong indications that he wouldn’t pursue investigations of Kabila or members of the current government.

“There will be no spirit of revenge,” he told Kinshasa’s Top Congo radio station on Wednesday. “I am ready to extend the hand to those who governed our country.”

Any plans by the government to try to sway the count in favor of Shadary collapsed because his vote count was too low, and Tshisekedi’s alliance with former Kabila ally Vital Kamerhe may have made him seem less of a threat to the current administration, Verisk Maplecroft Africa analyst Indigo Ellis said.

“We expect the electoral commission has altered results in favor of Tshisekedi as he is a more amenable figure from Kabila’s perspective,” Ellis said.

Slowing Economy

If the court confirms his victory, Tshisekedi will inherit an economy that’s been buffeted by slowing growth since a commodity-price crash in 2014. It expanded fivefold under Kabila’s 18-year rule as a tiny elite amassed large fortunes while most of Congo’s 80 million people live in grinding poverty. He’ll also face ongoing insurgencies by more than 100 militia groups in the mineral-rich east that’s also in the grip of an Ebola outbreak.

Congo accounts for two-thirds of global production of cobalt, a metal used in rechargeable batteries, and has deposits of gold, diamonds, tin, copper and coltan, an ore that contains a metal used in mobile phones.

The prospective change of administration may spur optimism among mining investors including Glencore Plc and Barrick Gold Corp. that they can reverse elements of a fiercely disputed new industry code that raised royalties and added taxes.

Congo’s Surprise Election Results Challenged by Catholic Church and Rivals

Tension over the vote, which had already been delayed two years, had been building after it was postponed for a week and then the electoral commission released the results three days later than scheduled. That prompted speculation about how the agency was handling the counting process.

SYMOCEL, a group of Congolese civil society organizations which deployed 20,000 election observers, said in a report on Tuesday there had been major irregularities at the results-compilation centers.

‘Rise Up’

“Let us all rise up as one man to protect our victory, to protect the victory of the Congolese people hand in hand to continue this fight until the end,” Fayulu told reporters after the results were announced. Tshilumbu said Fayulu should present any evidence that he won the election to the appropriate authorities.

“We have the evidence that Felix Tshisekedi is the winner of these elections,” he said.

While the ruling Common Front for Congo reserves the right to challenge the outcome, the coalition is “sticking to the results published by CENI,” Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi, a senior adviser to Kabila and spokesman for Shadary’s campaign, told reporters on Thursday.

Former colonial ruler Belgium and France expressed skepticism about the result.

Read a profile of Tshisekedi and his plans

“We have some doubts that we need to check and which will be debated in the coming days in the Security Council,” Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “it seems the declared result does not conform with what we could see” and called for calm.

Any major outbreaks of violence could give the authorities an excuse to halt the transition, said Ellis of Verisk Maplecroft.

“Preliminary results are just that, preliminary,” she said. “There is still a material risk that a chaotic reaction to the vote will allow the ruling coalition to justify annulling the election results.”

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