In Brief

Was the Congo presidential election rigged?

Defeated opposition candidate sparks accusations of ‘electoral coup’ amid allegations of backroom power-sharing deal

The runner-up in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s bitterly contested presidential election has sparked accusations of an “electoral coup” and a power-sharing stich up designed to keep him out of power.

Martin Fayulu had been leading in most pre-election polls, but lost out to rival opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, according to the much-delayed results released by the Electoral Commission yesterday.

If deemed legitimate, it would be the country's first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

However, the Catholic Church, which has closely monitored the vote, said that the result did not match data collected by its election monitors.

The Church has refused to say publicly who won according to its findings, but diplomats briefed on the Church data say it indicated a clear victory for Fayulu, in line with pre-election polls that had put him at least 20 points ahead of Tshisekedi.

Former colonial power Belgium has also expressed doubts about the result, with French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian, telling CNews it is “the opposite to what we expected”.

The BBC's Africa editor, Fergal Keane, says Tshisekedi is seen by many as the opposition candidate least objectionable to President Jospeh Kabila and that it is perhaps significant that neither Kabila nor his party have so far voiced any objection to the result.

This has prompted allegations of a power-sharing deal between the government and Tshisekedi.

“The mistrust generated by the delayed announcement of results and the rumoured backroom dealing has turned what might have looked like a momentous victory for Congo’s biggest opposition party into a potentially explosive scenario”, Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at the Center on International Cooperation told the Financial Times.

Fayulu, a former oil tycoon, has said the results had “nothing to do with the truth”, and accused the electoral commission and ruling party of making up the figures to give Tshisekedi, “their protege”, victory.

“The Congolese people will never accept such a fraud,” he told the BBC, adding: “Felix Tshisekedi never got 7 million votes. Where did he get them from?”

Robert Besseling, executive director of the risk consultancy EXX Africa, said Kabila had decided not to risk announcing a victory for his preferred candidate, the government-backed Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

“Instead, he chose to split the opposition by creating a power-sharing deal… Kabila will be able to influence Tshisekedi, who now owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the electoral commission,” he said.

“Whether Tshisekedi has the intention or the capacity to challenge the powerful hold Mr Kabila enjoys over the army, security services and key ministries will determine whether politics has really entered a new era,” says Keane.

The immediate question, however, is how Fayulu and his supporters will react.

The African Union has called for any dispute over the election to be resolved peacefully, “though it is feared that increased rhetoric by Fayulu could lead to trouble”, reports Sky News.

Significantly the Church and civil society have called on citizens to avoid becoming involved in violence, something the BBC says is “a recognition of the dangers involved in street protests while facing security forces with a reputation for heavy-handedness”.

Yet “the continuing tension threatens to tip the vast central African country into a cycle of protest, violent repression and worsening insecurity – dashing hopes that the election would mark a turning point in the DRC’s troubled history”, says The Guardian.

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