Catholic bishops in Democratic Republic of Congo have questioned the presidential election results, which they say contradict the findings of the Church’s observation mission.
On Thursday, hours after the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) announced Felix Tshisekedi, the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Change as the president-elect, the bishops issued a statement in which they questioned the result, but also indicated that the vote opened the way for a change at the country’s top leadership.
“From the analysis of the data collected by this mission, we find the results of the presidential election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission,” said Archbishop Marcel Utembi of Kisangani and the President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO).
DRC went to polls on 30 December to find a successor for Joseph Kabila who is relinquishing power after 17 years as president. The church had deployed 40,000 observers in all polling stations and set up of a call centre with 400 agents. It collected data that allegedly, after analysis, gave a different outcome from that of CENI.
Since the announcement, celebrations have ignited in some regions, while others have cried foul. Utembi urged the people to remain peaceful and shun actions that could lead to violence.
“In the event of a possible challenge to these provisional results by a party, we urge it to use legal means in accordance with the constitution and the electoral law,” said the Archbishop.
Observation teams from CENCO, the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) and civic observation group SYMOCEL made a similar call, urging the candidates to show humility, electoral fair play to losers and shun acts that could ignite violence.
“To the Congolese people, we ask that you remain vigilant, peaceful and not to pour (out in the streets) in violence,” said the groups in a joint statement.
Days before, news agencies had quoted diplomatic sources saying that some church officials had hinted that Martin Fayulu, an opposition candidate from the Engagement for Citizenship and Development party had won the polls.
Last week, Fr Donatien Nshole, the CENCO general secretary said the church knew who had won the presidential elections. The priest urged the electoral commission to publish the truth.
“Data in possession from the vote counting reports from polling stations designates the selection of one candidate as president,” said Nshole.
CENI said the preliminary result showed Tshisekedi – the 55 year-old-son of the prominent opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who died in 2017 – had garnered 38.57 per cent or seven million of the 18 million. More than 40 million in the county of 80 million people were registered voters.
Fayulu – a businessman and a lawmaker – was placed second with 6.4 million votes. Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came a distant third with 4.4 million votes.
Tshisekedi has sounded reconciliatory, saying he will be president for all Congolese people but Fayulu has rejected the result terming it an electoral coup. His supporters suspect that – partly in light of the delay before the results were announced – Tshisekedi came to various agreements with outgoing president Joseph Kabila that would ensure Kabila could continue to influence events.
Meanwhile, observers say the latest election sets a stage for the country’s first democratic and peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.