Calls for calm over disputed DR Congo election

Electoral commission and UN urge restraint as opposition rejects results giving Kabila victory in presidential poll.

Congo poll unrest

The head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) electoral commission has called for calm following the victory of Joseph Kabila, afer disputed provisional results gave the incumbent president 59 per cent of the votes in last week’s poll.

“[The results] are no reason to whip up the population against the established order to contest the results, or to
settle scores,” said Daniel Ngoy Mulunda.

Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who won 32 per cent of the 18 million votes cast according to the official tally, rejected Friday’s result and proclaimed himself the rightful president of the country.

Clashes broke out between tire-burning protesters and security forces in the capital, Kinshasa, following the results, as fears mounted that a post-election dispute would reignite conflict in the war-scarred central African state.

Gunshots rang out in the eastern neighbourhood of Limite and in the central area of Bandale, where protesters also threw stones at a heavy contingent of armed police, who fired tear gas to disperse them.

In an interview on RFI radio, Tshisekedi said: “I consider these results a real provocation of the Congolese people.

“As a consequence, I consider myself, from today, the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

To his supporters, whom he calls “fighters”, he said: “I urge you to stick together as one man behind me to face the events that will follow.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged Congolese to avoid violence over the results.

‘Total disaster’

In the Limite neighbourhood, where the 78-year-old Tshisekedi lives, the mood was dark.

“This is a total disaster,” said Fabien Bukasa, a Tshisekedi supporter. “We are thinking about what to do. We do not know what will happen.”

Lambert Mende, the communications minister, said that Tshisekedi’s declaration that he was president was “nonsense and illogical”, and warned that it could cause violence.

“We’re calling for Mr Tshisekedi to come back to legality and not to threaten the peace of the country just because the people didn’t choose him,” he told the Reuters news agency.

Kabila, in power since 2001, had been widely expected to win the November 28 poll, having run against a divided opposition field of 10 candidates in the single-round race.

However, third-placed finisher Vital Kamerhe said he also rejected the results, in part because of the numbers in Katanga province, where Kabila scored particularly well.

“The Congolese people have chosen Etienne Tshisekedi,” he said.

Results questioned

In some districts of Katanga, voter turnout was pegged at nearly 100 per cent, with all or nearly all of the votes going to Kabila, according to the election commission website.

“These results aren’t even naturally occurring, you simply don’t get that many people all being healthy, motivated,
getting to the polls and voting in such unison,” said David Pottie, mission manager for the US-based Carter Centre which monitored the vote.

“It’s a fundamental mark of disrespect for Congolese voters. … The sole owner of responsibility for this is the [electoral commission]. Its agents have signed off on these kind of results in multiple places.”

The website also showed that the results from nearly 2,000 polling stations in Kinshasa, potentially amounting to about 700,000 votes, had not been tallied.

The election commission reported a voter turnout of 58 per cent, with 18 million ballots cast.

The country’s Supreme Court will hear election disputes and declare a definitive winner on December 17.

Judges at the country’s apex court are, however, seen as being close to Kabila. The president expanded the court’s bench from seven to 27 at the start of the campaign.

The US called on Congolese authorities to complete the election process “with maximum openness and transparency”.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also said the Kinshasa government “remains responsible for providing security for the people of the Congo” and that anyone involved in violence “must be held accountable”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies