JOHANNESBURG - Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have sparked surprise and outrage by naming opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the nation's presidential election, after counting delays and a poll marred by irregularities, rampant suspicions and chaos.
Corneille Nangaa, head of the Independent National Election Commission, or CENI, said early Thursday that Tshisekedi had won with more than 7 million votes, or 38.5 percent of the total vote.
But the man predicted to win by pre-election surveys -- political newcomer and opposition coalition candidate Martin Fayulu -- immediately cried foul. Fayulu has previously accused the electoral commission, which is known to be loyal to longtime President Joseph Kabila, of playing favorites.
“This attitude from the electoral commission raises various legitimate suspicions that fuel political tension throughout the country,” Fayulu said.
The influential Catholic Church, which sent more than 40,000 observers to the polls, also disputed the official result, saying, “the results of the presidential election as published by the CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from the polling and counting stations."
Late entry, surprise winner
Tshisekedi’s victory comes as something of a surprise. The son of the former opposition leader was a late entrant to the poll. He was part of an opposition coalition that chose Fayulu as the opposition candidate, only to reverse course weeks later and enter the race.
However, analysts say they see a logic in this announcement because of the clear failure of the ruling party candidate to endear himself to the population. Kabila, who had agreed to step down after this poll, pushed Shadary, his handpicked successor. However, Shadary was so clearly unpopular, analysts say, that the electoral commission could not have plausibly anointed him as the winner.
“The electoral victory of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi is highly surprising, but the decision makes sense in the context of DRC’s political dynamics,” EXX Africa Business Risk Intelligence wrote in a report shortly after results were released.
“Outgoing President Joseph Kabila will be able to influence Tshisekedi, who now owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the electoral commission. At least initially, Tshisekedi will be dependent on the political favor of Kabila, who seeks immunity from prosecution and protection for his family’s substantial business interests.”
Few analysts believe the poll was free, fair or transparent. On election day, electoral materials arrived late, voters couldn’t find their names on the rolls, and polling machines failed or were too complicated for voters. Provisional results were delayed, raising rumors and suspicions.
“Kabila did not want to risk announcing Shadary as the winner, which would have triggered violent protests and international condemnation,” the report continued. “Instead, he chose to split the opposition by creating a power-sharing deal with Tshisekedi.”
‘Captured for a very long time’
A spokesman for Tshisekedi confirmed that his camp had been negotiating with Kabila long ahead of the handover, further sparking suspicions that this result was manipulated by the electoral commission.
Analyst Claude Kabemba, who leads the Johannesburg-based Southern Africa Resource Watch, says the real power is, and always has been, behind the scenes.
“Oh, Joseph Kabila, we said, directly or indirectly, is going to stay in power,” he said. “And I think we might have a prisoner in the presidency. And for me, that is scary, unless I am wrong, but judging from what has been happening behind the scenes -- and if Tshisekedi cannot rise to the occasion, we will be captured for a very long time.”
Analyst Richard Moncrieff of the International Crisis Group predicts Fayulu's supporters will not take the official result lying down.
“There will be a lot of anger. That anger will spill over into the streets, I’m quite sure. A lot of people -- a lot of his supporters -- will agree that he won, and will see a result for Tshisekedi as a stolen result, so that’s very dangerous.”
Amos Wangwa contributed to this report from Nairobi.