Congolese voters hungry for peace are ready to welcome President-elect Felix Tshisekedi to power, even if alleged election rigging may have led to his victory.
“I am very happy with his designation as our democratically elected President-elect Felix Tshisekedi,” Hervé, a 30-year-old unemployed resident of Kinshasa, the capital, told VOA. “Since I was born, I have never witnessed a peaceful handover of power,” he added.
Tonton Kasongo, 30, a hairdresser, echoed the desire for peace.
“The way I see it, as a son of this land, I want peace for this country,” he told VOA. “Since we didn’t have any gunshots, we are happy, because the one who is elected is the one we are going to call ‘Dad.’ I voted Fayulu because he, too, is a son of this land. Since he did not win, he needs to be patient and wait for the next time around.”
International observers say all available evidence points to massive fraud in the country’s December 30 election. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s influential Catholic Church says it witnessed widespread irregularities at the polls.
But voters in Kinshasa, the capital, told VOA this week they’re happy to see the peaceful transfer of power and grateful to outgoing President Joseph Kabila, in office since 2006, for stepping aside, regardless of the likelihood of rigging.
Based on the Church’s observations at thousands of polling stations and an unprecedented data leak representing millions of votes, analysts believe the election’s true victor, Martin Fayulu, won by more than 6 million votes, despite losing to Tshisekedi by nearly a million ballots, according to the official tally.
Both candidates ran on opposition tickets, but Fayulu’s camp says Tshisekedi made a last-minute deal with Kabila in exchange for ensuring his victory. Emmanuel Shadary, the ruling party’s chosen candidate, placed a distant third based on all figures.
Praise for Kabila
Many of the voters VOA spoke to emphasized their respect for Kabila’s decision to step down when others in his position have made moves to ensure they become president-for-life.
“I would like to pay tribute to President Kabila,” José, a 55-year-old taxi driver, said. “I would have never imagined that in my lifetime, I would see a military man hand power over to a civilian without a war.”
Hervé, the unemployed Kinshasa resident, agreed. “I am very pleased at how President Kabila has handed the power over to President Felix,” he said. “There was no gunshot. We can walk in Kinshasa.”
Fraught from start
Troubles haunted the DRC’s election from the onset.
Adeline Van Houtte, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told VOA that a series of events delayed the vote and stoked concern about the credibility of the process.
An uncontained Ebola outbreak postponed voting in the some parts of the east. And the large-scale rollout of electronic voting machines fueled misgivings about the intents of the electoral commission, Van Houtte said.
Then, days before the election, in mid-December, a fire broke out at a warehouse in Kinshasa. Most of the voting equipment housed there was destroyed, delaying the election a week. Days later, a plane crashed, destroying additional voting machines.
At the time, Van Houtte warned about the importance of holding the election without further delays. “Widespread unrest plunging the country back into civil war is definitely a risk,” Van Houtte said.
Congo’s Constitutional Court confirmed Tshisekedi’s victory Saturday, a decision Fayulu rejected as enabling a “constitutional coup d’etat.”
But calls for a recount have, so far, gone unanswered, and international bodies have dialed back their criticism of the election outcome.
After first pushing for a recount, the Southern African Development Community, a 16-country bloc, more recently emphasized the importance of not encroaching on Congo’s sovereignty, the Associated Press reported.
And after sharing “serious doubts” and asking Congolese officials to postpone a final confirmation of the results, the African Union now appears poised to endorse Tshisekedi.
That’s welcome news to people in Kinshasa.
“As for African Union, that was not the right move, and we could not agree with it,” Sidou, a 29-year-old taxi driver, told VOA in response to earlier calls for a postponement.
“This is interfering. It’s like Congo was ruled from outside. So our Court had to make its decision. For our sovereignty, our court had to do its work,” Sidou added.
“Congo is part of the African Union, obviously,” Hervé said. “But as far as the Congolese family is concerned, the African Union has no business in it. We are going to sort this out. We have died a lot in this country. We are tired of it.”
Now, Congolese voters are looking forward to a new era of peace.
“As a child of this country, we all are happy,” 43-year-old welder André told VOA. “What we did not think would ever happen, actually happened, so we are happy. May it last.”
Tshisekedi will be inaugurated Thursday.