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Opposition, Observers Decry Disorder as Congo Counts Votes

Jan 01, 2019

The Democratic Republic of Congo counted ballot papers on Monday after an election that the opposition described as chaotic and flawed, with problems ranging from broken voting machines to delays and vote-buying.

Congolese went to the polls Sunday to find a successor to long-serving President Joseph Kabila in a vote that was already two years overdue, with Kabila’s protege Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary running for the ruling coalition. He’s challenged by two major opposition alliances headed by Felix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu.

While the vote was mostly peaceful, both opposition groups said their colleagues had registered irregularities across the country, suggesting that some of the disorder was deliberately created by the electoral commission to favor Shadary.

“It was chaos at an organizational level,” Vital Kamerhe, the campaign director of Tshisekedi’s alliance, said by phone Monday. “We weren’t surprised -- we knew there was chaos and disorder being prepared. Despite all this, the opposition is still winning.”

Congo, Africa’s biggest copper producer and a key source of minerals essential to the smartphone and electric-vehicle industries, is heading toward its first transition of power through the ballot box since independence in 1960. Despite the presence of more than 16,000 United Nations peacekeepers in the vast central African country, the government refused logistical support from the UN and financial assistance from international donors to organize the vote. It also barred some foreign observers, including the European Union.

Observers Expelled

“We committed to financing our electoral process entirely ourselves for the very first time in our history,” Kabila said on state TV late Saturday. “For us, it’s an effort to shield our country from foreign interference liable to thwart the will of self-determination of our people.”

Internet services were disrupted in the capital, Kinshasa, on Monday. On voting day, numerous problems were reported by the local Catholic Church, which deployed tens of thousands of observers. Witnesses were barred from entering polling stations or expelled, hundreds of voting machines didn’t work properly and observers found cases of vote-buying and intimidation.

“All these irregularities will for sure have a negative impact on the process,” Fayulu told reporters late Sunday. Still, the people backing Shadary are “dreaming” if they think he’s won, he said.

Electoral commission chief Corneille Nangaa rejected criticism of the vote, saying late Sunday that most polling stations opened on time and voting machines had worked well.

Kabila, in power for almost 18 years, is barred by the constitution from running for a third term, having won elections in 2006 and 2011.

“There is absolutely no way that Shadary can lose,” Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, Kabila’s chief diplomatic adviser and member of the campaign team, said in an interview.

Ebola Threat

The opposition has repeatedly accused the electoral commission of preparing an election that’ll be neither free nor fair, but has insisted the vote be held. The commission pushed back the polls by another seven days from Dec. 23, blaming a fire at one of its warehouses in Kinshasa, and also suspended campaigning three days early in the city as Fayulu was planning a mass meeting.

The authority then postponed elections in three parts of the country until March, citing an Ebola outbreak, militia attacks and inter-communal violence. That effectively disenfranchised 1.2 million voters in regions known as strongholds of Kabila’s critics.

Tshisekedi, the leader of Congo’s largest opposition party, has teamed up with Kamerhe, who heads another major party and came third in 2011’s election, while Fayulu is boosted by the support of heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi.

Two recent polls published by New York University’s Congo Research Group record Shadary as trailing the opposition by a large margin, with Tshisekedi topping a survey in October and Fayulu leading a second published Dec. 28.

Provisional results of the presidential contest are due to be announced Jan. 6 and the final decision on Jan. 15. The next head of state is scheduled to be sworn in three days later. Voters also selected national and provincial lawmakers.


- Bloomberg