Many Congolese were kept from voting in the December 30 presidential election because polling stations often opened late, closed early and voting machines sometimes did not work, a group of observers said on Thursday.
The report by Congo’s SYMOCEL, which deployed thousands of staff to about a third of voting centres for Sunday’s poll, is the most comprehensive independent assessment to date of the election, which is meant to lead to the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
The electoral commission had been scheduled to publish provisional results on Sunday but it said on Thursday that could be delayed because counting centres are still waiting for 80 percent of local vote tallies.
DR Congo’s influential Roman Catholic Church on Thursday said that it knew who had won the country’s presidential elections and called on the authorities to quell a mounting storm about the outcome.
A senior church body, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), said on Thursday that “data in its possession from vote counting reports from polling stations designates the selection of one candidate as president.” It called on election overseers “to publish the election results in keeping with truth and justice”.
The vote is meant to choose a successor to incumbent Joseph Kabila, who is due to step down this month after 18 years in power. Repeated delays since 2016, when Kabila’s mandate officially expired, have sparked violent protests in which security forces killed dozens of people.
Pre-election polling showed ex-Minister of the Interior Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila’s preferred candidate, trailing the main opposition candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi. Both Shadary and the opposition say they expect to win.
The opposition says the vote was marred by widespread irregularities, while the ruling coalition and electoral commission say it went smoothly overall.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende on Thursday defended the credibility of the election and said the decision to cancel voting in the Ebola-hit cities of Beni and Butembo was justified by public safety concerns.
More than one million Congolese in opposition strongholds were barred from voting after the electoral commission cancelled the polls there, citing an Ebola outbreak, the second-deadliest in history, and ethnic violence.
Mende also defended a decision to cut internet access until the results were known, saying the measure was intended to stop the spread of false news about the outcome.
SYMOCEL said 24 percent of the polling stations it observed closed without allowing those already in line at closing time to cast their ballots, as required by law.
It added that 27 percent of polling stations it observed opened late, sometimes by many hours, and 18 percent had problems with malfunctioning electronic voting machines.
Seventeen percent of polling stations it observed allowed voting by people who either did not have voting cards or whose names were not on the voter roll, and 15 percent did not publicly display vote tallies after counting, as required by law, it said.