The outcome of DR Congo’s tempestuous presidential election appeared to be headed for the courts Friday after the poll’s runner-up said he would demand a recount.
Martin Fayulu, an opposition candidate tipped by pollsters as the likely winner of the December 30 vote, told supporters: “We will go to the Constitutional Court on Saturday… (to demand) a recount of the vote.”
He said he would challenge Corneille Nangaa, head of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI), “to produce the tally reports from polling stations in front of witnesses” and Congolese and international observers.
Provisional results released on Thursday gave Felix Tshisekedi, a rival opposition candidate, 38.57 percent of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the candidate backed by outgoing President Joseph Kabila, came a distant third with 23.8 percent.
The declared result was a surprise to many.
The few pre-election opinion polls had flagged Fayulu as clear favourite while Kabila critics predicted an outcome rigged in favour of Shadary.
The powerful Roman Catholic church bluntly said CENI’s provisional result “does not correspond” with data that its 40,000 election monitors had collected at polling stations.
Fayulu’s bloc on Friday said he was the true victor, claiming he had garnered 61 percent of the vote.
Candidates have 48 hours after the result to file any appeal, and the Constitutional Court has a week in which to deliberate.
“We don’t expect the election to be annulled, but (a decision in favour of) a recount,” Fayulu said.
– Unstable giant –
Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the grip of a two-year political crisis triggered by Kabila’s refusal to step down when his two-term constitutional limit expired at the end of 2016.
Elections to choose a successor were delayed three times before finally taking place on December 30.
Polling day unfolded relatively peacefully, but suspicions over the count have deepened.
The turmoil has darkened hopes that the country will have its first peaceful handover of power since it gained independence in 1960.
International reactions to the results have been guarded.
Most leaders issued statements calling for any disputes to be resolved peacefully, but notably lacking any congratulations for Tshisekedi.
Competing appeals in the dispute were pitched to the UN Security Council on Friday.
CENI chief Nangaa, speaking by video conference, pleaded for “the new authorities to be supported by the international community”.
Bishop Marcel Utembi, head of the Catholic church’s conference of bishops, urged the Security Council to ask CENI to release the records of vote-counting at polling stations to allow for verification.
But Russia and China said the UN should stay out of the dispute. Russia said the UN should focus on DRC’s stability and the need for a peaceful handover, while China called for “full respect” of CENI’s authority.
– Tshisekedi-Kabila deal? –
Analysts said it was likely Kabila, 47, had sought to avoid a backlash and international condemnation if Shadary had been declared winner.
He therefore struck a deal with Tshisekedi, head of the country’s oldest and biggest opposition party, according to this scenario.
As a quid pro quo, some commentators suggested, Kabila would gain immunity from prosecution for his iron-fisted 18-year rule, and protection from assets seizure.
Thursday’s pre-dawn announcement brought thousands of Tshisekedi supporters onto the streets in celebration, while others who had backed Fayulu came out to protest.
The authorities late Friday imposed an 8pm-5am curfew in Kikwit, a Fayulu stronghold in the west of the country, city mayor Leonard Mutangu told AFP.
Five civilians were killed there on Thursday in a police operation to curb post-election violence, said National Police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu.
Seventeen police were injured, he said, denying earlier reports of police fatalities. A relay station of the national radio and television broadcaster, RTNC, was also ransacked, he added.
In the eastern city of Goma, at least one person was killed, officials said.
In Mbandaka, capital of the northwestern province of Equateur, a Fayulu aide was arrested for calling on supporters to vandalise a vote collection centre and seize records of the ballot count, Mwanamputu said.
She was named as Wina Lokondo, a coordinator of Fayulu’s Lamuka coalition, who was arrested with three associates.
CENI has still to announce the result of legislative elections which also took place on December 30, with more than 15,000 candidates in the running.
The result will determine who will hold a majority in the 500-seat parliament for the next five years.
The outgoing National Assembly, which took office in 2011, is dominated by Kabila supporters who have already claimed to have won a majority.
DRC is a giant, straddling central Africa over an area the size of continental western Europe.
Rich in minerals but mired in poverty, the country has suffered two major wars in the past 22 years, as well as bloodshed in elections in 2006 and 2011 that saw Kabila returned to office.