Observers question DRC election credibility

The Carter Center reports on irregularities as opposition calls for mass protests over election results.

Voting Elections DRC Congo
Kabila was declared winner in a presidential poll that observers say lacks credibility [EPA]

One of the main observation missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo says that the results of the presidential election lack credibility.

In a statement released by the Carter Center on Saturday, observers reported that “the quality and integrity of the vote tabulation process has varied across the country, ranging from the proper application of procedures to serious irregularities, including the loss of nearly 2,000 polling station results in Kinshasa”.

Observers said they found evidence of possible vote tampering, vote inflation in regions of the country favourable to the incumbent President Joseph Kabila, and instances of vote suppression in areas known to be bastions of support for the opposition.

Detailed province-by-province results show a pattern of “impossibly high” rates of voter turnout in places known to be strongholds of support for the 40-year-old Kabila, said a statement released by the Carter Center.

Although voter turnout throughout the country was less than 59 per cent overall, in several constituencies in Katanga province turnout was 99 to 100 per cent, and all, or nearly all, of the votes were cast for Kabila.

David Pottie, one of the senior observers with the Carter Center, said it is impossible to have 100 per cent voter turnout in a region where less than 2 per cent of the roads are paved, and equally improbably for all the votes to go to Kabila, when there were 11 candidates on the ballot.

Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Kinshasa, said that the Carter Center’s report would “strenghten opposition claims that the election was rigged, but any election related dispute would have to be channeled to the country’s Supreme Court”.

Prior to the election, the president expanded the Supreme Court from seven judges to 27.

“The feeling is the change was designed to make sure Kabila had his people in place if the dispute went to court,” our correspondent said. 

The European Union and other international and local observers have also cited serious problems with the vote, ranging from disorganisation at polling stations to ballot box stuffing.

The campaign was marred by bloodshed that according to Human Rights Watch left at least 18 civilians dead, most shot by Kabila’s presidential guard.

Kabila, in power since 2001, was named on Friday the winner of the November 28 poll, but runner-up Etienne Tshisekedi immediately rejected the result and declared himself president.

Violent protests and looting erupted in Kinshasa when Kabila’s win was announced, but a heavy security force presence including police, presidential guards and some 20,000 soldiers deployed to the capital had largely restored a  tense calm on Sunday.

Call for protests

Meanwhile, the country’s opposition party party called for protests early next week over Kabila’s disputed election victory, a spokesman for Etienne Tshisekedi, the opposition leader, said on Sunday.

“We insist that the protests will be non-violent The population know this may be a long, long walk but they are ready
for it,” Albert Moleka told the Reuters new agency. 

Kinshasa, Congo’s populous capital on the banks of the Congo river, was mostly quiet with reports of sporadic gunfire on
Sunday amid a security crackdown which has seen police and military mobilised and the SMS message network suspended nationwide.

Kabila was declared the winner with 49 per cent of vote. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who finished second with 32 per cent, said he rejects the results and considers himself the country’s elected leader.

Tshisekedi claimed his party’s own count based on results taken directly from polling stations showed he had in fact won with 54 per cent.

“As a result, I consider myself from this day on as the elected president,” he said.

Lambert Mende, government spokesman and communications minister, on Saturday threatened Tshisekedi with prosecution for the statement, which he called an “attack on the constitution”.

Exacerbating the volatile atmosphere, national police chief Charles Bisengimana said security forces had fatally shot three looters and a woman had been killed by a stray bullet in the unrest after Kabila’s win was declared. But UN Radio Okapi claimed that six people had been killed.

Sharp divisions

Throughout Europe, Tshisekedi’s supporters took to the streets, including in London, where police confirmed they have arrested 143 protesters.

Kinshasa was sharply divided over the weekend. Kabila supporters held a second night of victory celebrations on Saturday at party offices in the upscale neighbourhood of Gombe, where many embassies and ministries are located.

But in Bambu district, a Tshisekedi stronghold, police detained youths they accused of instigating violence, tied them up and hit them, firing their AK-47s in the air to clear the streets.

“The police are terrorising the population,” said opposition activist Angele Makombo, president of the League of Congolese Democrats.

Analysts have warned that the elections, just the second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003, risk unleashing new conflict in the vast central African country.

Source: News Agencies