Congo Opposition Leader Is Surprise Winner of Presidential Vote

Larry Hoffman
January 11, 2019

The Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was on Thursday named the provisional victor of a long-awaited presidential poll paving the way for the crisis-hit country's first transfer of power in 18 years.

Fayulu, who vowed in his campaign to to clean up Congo's widespread corruption, received more than 6 million votes, or 34 percent, of the electoral commission's results.

Analysts are now looking to the verdict of the influential body representing Congo's Catholic bishops that said January 3 that results gathered at polling stations on election day by its 40,000-strong observation mission showed which candidate had won, without naming the person.

Pre-election polling by New York University's Congo Research Group recorded Shadary trailing the opposition by a large margin - with Tshisekedi topping a survey in October and Fayulu commanding a strong lead two days before the vote.

DR Congo - which was formally known as Zaire - has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, and bloodshed marred elections in 2006 and 2011.

"I pay tribute to President Joseph Kabila and today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather, a partner in democratic change in our country", Tshisekedi told a crowd of supporters at the headquarters of his UDPS party.

Fayulu immediately rejected the result.

Fellow opposition candidate Fayulu who was backed by former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi - considered a traitor by Kabila - and ex-warlord and former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, had also sounded a conciliatory tone.

The outright annulment of the 30 December election remains less likely, despite Kabila's chosen successor candidate (Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary) having probably lost heavily in the presidential vote, due to the mass anti-government protests this would likely spark.

"The Catholic Church of Congo did its tally and announced completely different results".

The election outcome was initially expected to be announced on Sunday - and results are now expected later on Wednesday.

The 56-year-old Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo's most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father's death. Many appeared to be watching for the reactions of Fayulu's supporters. "Those of us who have followed this very closely have all been told that there were conversations behind the scenes between Tshisekedi and Kabila".

The delayed results, 10 days after the December 30 vote, came after worldwide pressure to announce an outcome that reflected the will of the people, with the US threatening sanctions. Dozens of polling centers opened hours late as materials went missing.

Tshisekedi's warm words towards Kabila fuelled suspicions among Fayulu's supporters that there had been some sort of behind-the-scenes deal.

Among the challenges he would face is an Ebola outbreak in the east of the country.

Western pressure likely has little effect, however, as Congo's government has rejected what it calls interference and expelled the European Union ambassador days before the vote.

Kabila said before the vote he planned to remain involved in politics and could not rule out running again for president in 2023 when he will no longer be term-limited.

But election chief Corneille Nangaa declared Tshisekedi the victor with 38.57 percent of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.

Sarah Gardner, who works with the project's investigative initiative called The Sentry, said: "I think if that process goes forward, there needs to be worldwide support for full transparency and statements to that effect".

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