Elections have passed throughout most of the Congo - voters are now suspended in a weird limbo of several weeks as they wait for election results to be announced. Sitting in bars and living rooms, people in Bukavu send and receive dozens of text messages a day regarding the results seen outside voting offices and compilation centers - "Vital is ahead in 8 out of 32 centers in Goma!" "Tshisekedi takes a surprising lead in Beni territory!"
I won't delve into too much speculation about the result yet. It is too early to do so; results just began trickling into the central compilation centers in Kinshasa yesterday. It looks like Tshisekedi did well, and that the race will be close, but beyond scattered results here and there, there is more speculation than anything else.
So how did the voting go? The election was Janus-faced. On one hand, it was peaceful in most of the country, with what appeared to be relatively high turnout. I would wager that in 70-80% of polling stations, the elections went fairly well, even in many parts of Kinshasa. People I spoke with in Bukavu - and echoed by what my colleagues heard elsewhere in the country - were enthusiastic and highly motivated. I saw women queuing for hours in the sun with their infants, old men who had hobbled on their canes for miles to come to voting stations. Moving stuff.
The other face of the elections was ugly. There were hundreds of cases of election irregularities, many of which could have probably been avoided through more meticulous preparation. The most frequent irregularities, which have been covered extensively in the press, are the following:
Given these irregularities, the question is: what next? Four presidential candidates - Kamerhe, Kengo, Mbusa and Bombole - are asking for elections to be canceled, but both the main opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi and the incumbent Joseph Kabila have said they will respect the results. Some foreign observations missions made statements today, outlining the above irregularities but not making any broader judgments.
The reason that Tshisekedi and Kabila are going ahead with the process is clear: They both think they can win. Obviously, there will only be one president. So one will lose. What will his reaction be? Neither side appears ready to step down without a fight. Key questions for the coming days will be: Did political parties and civil society observers have enough people on the ground to carry out an independent tallying of votes? Will the compilation process - which is already fairly chaotic - be transparent? If Tshisekedi loses, how many people can he mobilize in the streets for how long? If Kabila loses, will he admit defeat or simulate a crisis to prevent a handover of power? In case of a crisis, what position will the army and police take?