Congo election: Two men declare themselves president

International observers reject the Congo election results that put President Joseph Kabila on top. His main rival, meanwhile, declares himself president.

Jerome Delay/AP
Supporters of Congolese president Joseph Kabila take to the streets in celebration in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday, after the electoral commission declared their candidate the winner. Since then, opposition candidates and international observers have rejected the results citing irregularities. The main opposition candidate says he won with 54 percent of the vote.

Congolese police have launched a crackdown in the capital Kinshasa, rounding up Congolese youths from their homes, as opposition candidates and international observers reject Friday's results from recent presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Carter Center, one of several election observer missions that followed the Nov. 28 elections, said that multiple irregularities in the election and tallying process made them conclude that the election results “lack credibility.” Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition candidate, meanwhile, declared himself president, saying that his own party’s vote tallies taken from polling stations showed that he had won with 54 percent of the vote.

“The problem was obviously with the tabulation process,” says David Pottie, mission manager for the Carter Center in Kinshasa, speaking with the Monitor by phone. Among the irregularities: Results from 2,000 separate polling stations in Kinshasa went missing, and some polling stations with improbably high turnout reported 100 percent voter support for the incumbent president. The Carter Center rated 40 percent of the 169 compilation centers around the country as “poor.”

“In our conclusion we find the irregularities are significant enough to undermine the credibility of the election results,” says Mr. Pottie. “But having said that, we don’t have a smoking gun to reveal 1.5 million votes, and to reverse the order of the final results.”

This is not the election that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo hoped for and deserved. These are the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second set of elections since the fall of the dictatorship of President Mobutu Sese Seko, and a decade-long civil and regional war that killed as many as 5 million Congolese in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

With 19,000 UN peacekeepers on the ground in Congo, there is little chance of a return to outright war. But a failed election in Congo has the potential to extend human suffering in the country, to delay the kind of development that could put Congo on par with other fast-growing African neighbors, and to encourage meddling from its stronger neighbors.

Official results show that incumbent President Joseph Kabila had won the election with 49 percent of the vote, compared with 32 percent for Mr. Tshisekedi. Tshisekedi’s supporters, both inside Congo and in the widespread diaspora community in Europe and America, rejected the results. His supporters also indicated that they could not trust either a recount by the country’s independent election commission – the chairman of which is the personal pastor of Kabila – or a legal challenge in Congo’s court system, as they view the judges to be pro-Kabila.

Among the most glaring irregularities was the vote count in the locality of Mulemba-Nkulu, in southern Katanga province. Voter turnout across the country was a relatively-low 59 percent, but in Mulemba-Nkulu, turnout was 99.46 percent. All 266,000 votes in Mulemba-Nkulu went to President Kabila.

In Kinshasa, Tshisekedi told reporters that based on his own party’s vote count, “I consider myself from this day on as the elected president." Agence-France Presse news agency quoted government spokesman Lambert Mende as saying that Tshisekedi’s statement was “an attack on the constitution,” and said that Tshisekedi should be arrested for instigating violence.

On the streets of Kinshasa, there were instances of looting, but little major organized protest at press time. But Associated Press reported that police had gone house to house in pro-Tshisekedi neighborhoods and taken youths from their homes, firing AK-47s into the air to clear the streets and prevent interference. Human Rights Watch said in a report that 18 people had been killed, most of them by Kabila’s elite Presidential Guard, in the lead-up to the elections.

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