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November 29, 2011

AU, Carter Center Urge Congolese to Accept Vote Results

by Scott Stearns

Electoral observers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are urging presidential and legislative candidates to accept the results of this week's vote. Four presidential candidates are calling for the vote to be annulled. Some people are still voting after ballots were delivered late.

The electoral commission says voters at more than 480 polling places are finally casting their ballots Wednesday after delays on Monday and Tuesday prevented them from voting. Totals from most of the more than 63,000 polling stations have been reported and are being compiled at electoral commission headquarters.

African Union observers are calling on “all political actors to show their responsibility by accepting the results" despite procedural delays, violence, and allegations of fraud.

Opposition presidential candidate Vital Kamerhe wants the vote annulled because of what he says was fraud “deliberately planned by those in power with the connivance of the national election commission.” Three other presidential candidates joined his call, denouncing what they said was President Joseph Kabila's use of state resources during the campaign.

Former Zambian president, Rupiah Banda, led election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center. He says candidates calling for an annulment should wait for results from the electoral commission, which is known as the CENI.

“Candidates and voters alike should remain calm and await CENI's announcement of official preliminary results due by December 6," said Banda. "We hope that the results of this election will be accepted by the people and by the candidates themselves as the voice of the Congolese people.”

Gunmen in the southern city of Lubumbashi Monday attacked a polling station and a convoy of vehicles carrying ballots. In several cities, voters fought with electoral officials whom they accused of trying to rig the vote. John Stremlau is the vice president for peace programs at the Carter Center.

“In the places we observed, there should have been more security," said Stremlau. "Which is ironic given how over-securitized this place was five years ago. So on the one hand I'd prefer peace and an absence of heavy weapons. On the other hand, people's tendency to spread rumors and jump to conclusions when they don't trust the opposition - or in some cases the government - poses challenges for observers to make sense out of what the pattern is.”

Stremlau says the question is: Were those voting irregularities systemic or bad management?

“At the moment, it would appear to be the product of a rushed election of enormous complexity," he said.

Stremlau says candidates with complaints should follow the judicial process established to resolve electoral challenges.

“It is never a perfect process and this will be a difficult challenge period because it is very short and there are a lot of suspicions about who is in charge of the supreme court and how that will work," said Stremlau. "But I think it is incumbent upon the media to press candidates to produce evidence of the malfeasance they allege. The anecdotes are important, but we are looking for patterns.”

The electoral commission says it investigated Kamerhe's claim of ballots marked for President Kabila in advance and concluded that those allegations were not true.

The leading opposition candidate in this vote, Etienne Tshisekedi, has also alleged vote fraud but has not joined Kamerhe's call for an annulment.

Albert Muleka is the secretary general of Mr. Tshisekedi's party. He says the electoral commission should be more transparent about how it is dealing with contested ballots.

“They are monitored only by CENI,' said Muleka. "So it kind of raises many questions and even some suspicions. So we really encourage CENI to come back to the consultation method so that we all can monitor what is going on right now.”

Unlike President Kabila's 2006 election, there is no longer a second round of balloting in Congo. So whoever gets the most votes here wins.

Photo Gallery: Congo Elections