DR Congo awaits first preliminary results amid tensions

Congolese police officers block a door after voters forced their way into a voting station in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, December 20, 2023. /CFP

Congolese police officers block a door after voters forced their way into a voting station in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, December 20, 2023. /CFP

Vote counting continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after episodes of irregularity were reported in the general elections held on December 20.

As the country awaits the announcement of the first preliminary results later the day amid visible tensions, Moise Katumbi, one of the main opposition candidates in the presidential race, said on Saturday that the elections on December 20 should be “annulled” because of “massive fraud.”

Episodes of irregularity

Some 44 million voters in the DRC go to the polls Wednesday to elect a new president, members of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies, as well as municipal councilors, with delays in deployment of voting materials and reports of sporadic violence at some polling stations.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the electoral body, extended the polling until December 21, admitting that some polling stations failed to open due to logistics problems that led to the massive polling delay across the country.

A voter casts her ballot in Kinshasa, December 20, 2023. /CFP

A voter casts her ballot in Kinshasa, December 20, 2023. /CFP

A voter casts her ballot in Kinshasa, December 20, 2023. /CFP

According to local media, polling still continued on Sunday in some parts of the country, where polling stations suffered from major delays in voting materials.

“Faced with this unacceptable situation, we call for the immediate annulment of these chaotic elections, marred by massive fraud as documented by all stakeholders,” read a statement by Katumbi, a major challenger to the outgoing President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking reelection.

According to preliminary results announced late Friday by CENI, Tshisekedi leads in diaspora vote tallies in South Africa, Belgium, Canada, the United States and France, with Katumbi standing in second place in general.

Other presidential candidates also contested the episodes of irregularity during the voting process, as the extension of polling goes against the electoral law and the Constitution.

The “irregularities sufficiently attest that on December 20, 2023, it was a sham election, organized in violation of the fundamental right of the Congolese people,” according to a statement of five presidential candidates on Saturday, including Martin Fayulu, Denis Mukwege, two main challengers in the race.

Full provisional election results are expected on December 31, as CENI would publish daily updates starting on Sunday.

A broken voting machine at a polling station after people were barred from voting in Bunia, capital of the eastern province of Ituri, December 20, 2023. /CFP

A broken voting machine at a polling station after people were barred from voting in Bunia, capital of the eastern province of Ituri, December 20, 2023. /CFP

A broken voting machine at a polling station after people were barred from voting in Bunia, capital of the eastern province of Ituri, December 20, 2023. /CFP

Visible tensions

Visible tensions have been running high since the beginning of the polling on December 20, like the previous ones. In 2018, Tshisekedi came to power by winning the 2018 election, marking the country’s “first peaceful transfer of power” since independence from Belgium, according to the United Nations.

The five presidential candidates announced on Saturday that they would launch a massive demonstration in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, on December 27 to denounce the irregularities in the electoral process. The demonstration would start from Triumphal boulevard and go right to the headquarters of CENI in downtown Kinshasa.

On Saturday, 13 embassies in Kinshasa released a joint statement calling for restraint.

“We call on All stakeholders, in particular political actors, candidates and their supporters, to continue to exercise restraint, allow time for the process to continue and to assert their challenges peacefully, in accordance with the laws and the Constitution,” read the statement.

A Belgian IT expert deployed by the European Union to support the elections fell from the 12th floor of his hotel and died late Saturday. According to local media, investigation has been opened into the incident.

Unrest reignited

The eastern part of the country, long-plagued by conflicts and rebel attacks for decades, has seen unrest reignited as the country is currently going through a major political transition.

On December 21, the day after the general elections, fighting resumed between the government military and rebels in the March 23 Movement (M23) in the Masisi territory of the North Kivu province.

The rebel group, which resurfaced in late 2021, has triggered conflicts and a major humanitarian crisis and seized major strongholds on Congolese soil.

On December 15, several days before the polling, Corneille Nangaa, a Congolese opposition figure in exile, formed a political-military alliance, “Alliance Fleuve Congo,” with M23 rebels and other armed groups in order to “save the country.”

On Saturday, RED-Tabara, a rebel group based in eastern DRC, claimed responsibility for an attack that left 20 dead late Friday night in Burundi’s border town with the DRC. RED-Tabara has been battling Burundi’s government since 2015.

Several regions in the eastern part of the DRC, still occupied by the rebels, are excluded from holding the elections due to a lack of voter registration.

Tshisekedi and leading opposition candidates, including Martin Fayulu, Moise Katumbi, and Dennis Mukwege, have all campaigned in the east, promising a respite from the violence.

The restive North Kivu province also witnessed a further deterioration in the security situation, with rising regional tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, which increases the risk of direct military confrontation that could involve Burundi.

The DRC has the largest number of internally displaced persons on the African continent. Years of violence and insecurity have driven 5.7 million people from their homes, and in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, violence has increased recently, including against civilians living in displacement sites, according to the United Nations.

Source(s): Xinhua News Agency

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