Congolese face tense Round 2 of voting

Incumbent Joseph Kabila won only 45 percent in the presidential poll, forcing a runoff on Oct. 29.

Minutes before results in Congo's presidential elections were to be announced on Sunday evening, gunfire erupted in the capital, Kinshasa. The violence, which continued into early Monday morning, was not a hopeful sign for the second round of voting that will be held on Oct. 29.

None of the 32 candidates in the country's first democratic elections in 45 years won the 50 percent necessary to avoid a presidential runoff. Incumbent Joseph Kabila won 45 percent of the vote, while his closest challenger, Jean-Pierre Bemba, won 20 percent.

Eyewitnesses from Kinshasa say that the violence was sparked by a confrontation between Mr. Kabila's elite presidential guard and Mr. Bemba's private bodyguards. Each side blames the other for making the first move. At least five people died, their bodies left on the capital's streets. Monday morning, those streets were eerily quiet except for the UN and European Union soldiers patrolling in armored personnel carriers.

The election results confirmed a stark division between the east and west of this vast central African country. Sunday night's conflagration in the capital also marks a watershed in poor relations between the presidential front-runners and is likely to usher in a bruising two-month campaign.

"The fact that you have a direct face-off between candidates whose rhetoric has been hostile in the first-round will make this a tense campaign," says Jason Stearns, senior analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Kabila, the young former soldier who inherited the presidency from his father following his assassination in 2001, won a landslide victory in the east, where life proceeded normally after the vote. Congolese here in the east call Kabila "Le Pacificateur," crediting him with bringing an end to years of brutal conflict in which an estimated 3.9 million people died.

In Kinshasa and elsewhere in the west, Kabila is un- popular. He speaks Swahili, the language of the east, and has only a loose grasp of Lingala, the main western language. Kabila's opponents branded him a foreigner during the campaign period.

Here, he was trounced by Bemba, a former rebel leader and the son of a wealthy businessman who made his money during the 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. Bemba has displayed his father's gift for business, making a fortune in telecommunications and having a successful period as finance minister in the transitional government. But in between, he ran his militia, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), and has been accused of war crimes.

During campaigning, Bemba harnessed nationalist fervor by portraying himself as "100 percent Congolese," a clear slight against Kabila.

Much now depends on what strategies the two candidates employ. Kabila, with his win in the east, where turnout was above the 70 percent national average, will have to reach across the regional divide to gather the additional support he needs to win in the second round.

Bemba has more options. Turnout in the west was significantly lower than in the east, meaning that there are more votes to be had if Bemba can mobilize support for October's polls. But to do so would further entrench the east-west divide.

Bemba can also attempt to court voters in the east. But his MLC militia could be a roadblock to that. "These lords of war like Bemba are not much-loved by those affected by the fighting," says Umvor Keno, a history professor at the university in Bunia.

Defeated candidates are expected to begin contesting the results in the coming days. They have until the end of the month to lodge complaints, but it is likely there will be little attention paid to allegations of corruption and irregularities. Observers have called the election free and democratic, and noted that irregularities were insufficient to affect the outcome.

The key issue will be the tenor of the next part of the campaign. "Will the campaigning be defined by divisionist or reconciliatory rhetoric?" asks Mr. Stearns. "Will the candidates retrench or reach out?"

Congo's presidential election results, first round

Turnout = 70% of 25.7 million voters


• Joseph Kabila 44.8%


• Jean-Pierre Bemba 20%


• Antoine Gizenga 13.1%


• François Joseph Mobutu 4.8%


• Remaining 28 candidates 17.3%


Source: Independent Electoral Commission

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