The election commission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has postponed announcing the winner of the country’s presidential election for one day further, saying not all ballot boxes had been tallied.
The surprise announcement on Thursday came as the country waited with bated breath for results of the controversially contested November 28 elections, as police filled the streets amid fears of unrest.
“We need to compare the figures received on the results sheets with the ones received by satellite transmission. It’s a huge job and we need to do it to assure the credibility and compliance of the numbers we’re going to announce,” said election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda.
President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, appears to be on track for another five-year term, having run against a divided opposition field of 10 candidates in the single-round race.
He led top rival Etienne Tshisekedi by 49 per cent to 33 per cent in partial results announced late on Tuesday, with results from 89 per cent of polling centres counted.
The conflict-prone country has been on edge since last week’s vote which was preceded by clashes between police and opposition supporters in Kinshasa.
Police have been out in force in the capital and some 20,000 soldiers are on stand-by at military bases with security forces seemingly determined to quash any opposition demonstrations before they could start.
Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, reporting from Kinshasha said: “Security has definitely been beefed up and thousands of police officers, with semi-automatic weapons, sitting in makeshift camps can be seen across the city.”
“The city is still very tense but seemed to show elements of normality as traffic resumed and shops opened – albeit not completely – but definitely more activity than the past few days.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nshole Babula, the secretary-general of Union of Bishops of Congo, said he was worried about the prospect of violence: “We are worried about what might happen when results are released because the opposition says they will protest and we are concerned to see so much of police presence in the city.
“This is why the Catholic church has asked those who have a problem with the results to address their complaints through the legal route.”
Speaking about the certainty of alleged fraud, Babula said “it is difficult to say there is fraud, but we say that CENI must be transparent … the manner in which they are publishing results, it is not possible to verify results.”
According to the UN election observers, on Thursday there were reports of light skirmishes across the city.
In the area of Ngiri Ngiri, local residents barricaded the road and local police officers were called in to intervene, but no casualties were reported.
Many residents have chosen to remain at home, leaving the centre of the city virtually empty.
UN and diplomatic staff from a number of embassies have been urged to be prudent when travelling during the day and urged to remain indoors at night.
But while the central business district has shut down, as fears grow of clashes following the release of election results, the city remains alive at the edges.
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege also in Kinshasa said: “There is no question that the incumbent Kabila will win this election and the question now is – what will the opposition do – do they go through the justice system or will their lack of belief in the legal system mean that they will take to the streets?”
Outside the headquarters of Tshisekedi’s party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), police in riot gear fired teargas whenever a group of people appeared to be forming.
The UDPS said it would “tolerate” the result delay, but reiterated its criticism of the vote count and called for results to be released for every polling centre.
UDPS secretary general Jacquemin Shabani called the issuing of partial results “biased, opaque and irresponsible”.
The UK based Human Rights Watch has said at least 18 civilians were killed in election-related violence last month, mostly shot dead by Kabila’s presidential guard as it put down a Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa.
The elections are only the second since back-to-back wars between 1996 and 2003 in a country which sits at the bottom of the UN’s development index despite a wealth of natural resources including cobalt, copper, diamonds and gold.