DR Congo crisis deepens; African leaders congratulate Tshisekedi

African Union 'postpones' urgent trip to Congo after court confirmed Tshisekedi win, despite questions over the result.

    The political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo deepened on Sunday when the Constitutional Court confirmed the win of Felix Tshisekedi, rejecting claims of fraud, and runner-up Martin Fayulu promptly declared himself the country's "only legitimate president".

    Fayulu's supporters have alleged an extraordinary backroom deal between outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favour of the opposition after the ruling party's candidate did so poorly that a plan B was needed. Neither side has acknowledged the accusations.

    The court, however, said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed to the electoral commission.

    Following the court ruling, the African Union postponed a visit by a high-level delegation to Kinshasa that had been scheduled for Monday to discuss the crisis. The bloc has previously expressed "serious concerns" over the vote and called for the results to be delayed.

    Several African leaders congratulated Tshisekedi after the court confirmed the win. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta took to Twitter to offer his support, while South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa in a statement urged the Congolese people to "move on to consolidate democracy and preserve peace, stability and security of the country."

    Tanzanian President John Magufuli, in a post on Twitter, said that "I beseech you to maintain peace".

    The 16-nation Southern African Development Community, after wavering in recent days with support for a recount, called on all Congolese to accept the vote's outcome.

    'Constitutional coup d'etat'

    Runner-up Fayulu urged Congolese to take to the streets to peacefully protest what he called a "constitutional coup d'etat", accusing the court of validating false results. "It's no secret ... that you have elected me president," he said.

    "I consider myself the only legitimate president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I call on the Congolese people not to recognise someone who would take on that role illegitimately, nor to obey the orders coming from him," he said.

    Neither Congolese nor the international community should recognise Tshisekedi, nor obey him, Fayulu added.

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    Tshisekedi said early on Sunday that the Constitutional Court's decision confirming him as the winner of the presidential election was a victory for the entire country.

    "It is Congo that won," said Tshisekedi, speaking to his supporters after the court decision.

    "It is not the victory of one camp against another. I am engaged in a campaign to reconcile all Congolese. ... The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security."

    The largely untested Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is set to be inaugurated on Tuesday. His supporters who had gathered outside the court cheered.

    "It's a shame that Mr Fayulu wants to stay isolated," Tshisekedi's spokesman, Vidiye Tshimanga, told The Associated Press. He said the two men once had been part of an opposition coalition demanding that Kabila step down.

    The new president will need everyone for the reconstruction of the country, Tshimanga said, as the Congolese people have "suffered a lot in recent years".

    Pierre Englebert, professor of international relations at Pomona College, told Al Jazeera that the court's decision was not "surprising".

    "The court is widely understood as being populated with judges loyal to the president," he said.

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    Government spokesman Lambert Mende quickly acknowledged the court's decision, congratulating Tshisekedi as Congo's fifth president.

    "When you think about it, the brilliance of the arrangement that they have is now they have the supporters of the president, of Kabila himself, and the supporters of Tshisekedi being in favour of the decision, and therefore we spread the opposition," said Englebert.

    Fears of unrest

    The country of 80 million people, rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world, is moving closer to achieving its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.

    But observers have warned that the court's upholding of the official results could lead to further unrest.

    At least 34 people have been killed since provisional results were released on January 10, the United Nations has said.

    The court said Tshisekedi won with more than seven million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent. However, leaked data published by some media outlets, attributed to the electoral commission and representing 86 percent of the votes, show that Fayulu won 59 percent while Tshisekedi received 19 percent.

    Fayulu, a legislator and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo's sprawling corruption, is widely seen as posing more of a threat to Kabila, his allies and the vast wealth they have amassed.

    All of the election results, not just the presidential ones, had been widely questioned after Kabila's ruling coalition won a majority in legislative and provincial votes while its presidential candidate finished a distant third.


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    Congo's election had been meant to take place in late 2016, and many Congolese worried that Kabila, in power since 2001, was seeking a way to stay in office. Barred from serving three consecutive terms, Kabila already has hinted he might run again in 2023.

    After Tshisekedi was announced as the surprise winner in provisional results on January 10, some Congolese weary of turmoil appeared to decide that replacing Kabila with an opposition figure was enough, despite questions about the vote.

    Reflecting the yearning for stability, 33 Congolese non-governmental groups and civil society movements on Thursday called on people to comply with whatever the court rules to "preserve the peace".

    With that perhaps in mind, Tshisekedi's party sharply rejected the AU's attempted intervention.

    The continental body's stance is "the work of some mining lobbies seeking to destabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to perpetuate the looting of this country," the party's secretary-general, Jean-Marc Kabund, said in a statement.

    Leading up to the court's ruling, hundreds of Tshisekedi's supporters were in the streets of the capital, Kinshasa, waving tree branches and banners reading "Congo for the Congolese."

    The 16-nation Southern African Development Community, after wavering in recent days with support for a recount, called on all Congolese to accept the vote's outcome.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies