Congo Election Results: A Tense Wait

The elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been covered by international media and commentators with an interesting range of urgency, from “Chaos, arson, violence mar Congo election” to “Congo elections mostly peaceful, but fraught with problems.” Indeed, as the latter headline suggests, in a country the size of DRC elections are bound to unfold differently in different parts of the country. Jason Stearns of Congo Siasa, in Bukavu for the elections, described them as “Janus-faced”:

On one hand, it was peaceful in most of the country, with what appeared to be relatively high turnout. I would wager than in 70-80% of polling stations, the elections went fairly well, even in many parts of Kinshasa. …

The other face of the elections was ugly. There were hundreds of cases of election irregularities, many of which could have probably been avoided through more meticulous preparation.

Hayes Brown on UN Dispatch, in addition to a number of other commentators, also highlighted that confusion and irregularities could have been prevented with better logistical preparation. The Guardian reported that problems such as getting voting materials and electoral observers to the polling stations led to extended voting at 400 of the country’s 63,000 polling stations.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But, on the other hand, four of the presidential opposition candidates have requested that election results be canceled, alleging fraud. On Monday, when elections began, accusations of fraud and frustration with logistical issues in Kinshasa led to angry residents burning ballot papers. In Katanga, masked gunmen attacked a polling station with automatic weapons and three people were killed. In West Kasai, residents burned down three polling stations. Polling stations in other parts of the country were burned down as well, and five people were reportedly killed when gunmen fired on a polling station in Lubumbashi.

Stearns reported a few continuing irregularities on his blog on Thursday, but also noted that:

In the meantime, all major observation missions have put out preliminary statements on the process. All congratulated the Congolese on elections and the election commission on rising to the huge logistical challenge. None of them passed judgment on the elections in general – that will have to wait for their final report – and only the Congolese Renosec monitors from civil society confirmed that there had been fraud, “but not enough to call into question the process.” The Carter Center suggested that in 16% of cases irregularities led to a negative evaluation of voting, while the European Union provided an exhaustive list of flaws but did not suggest that this had compromised the overall process. We will have to wait for 5 days (and perhaps longer?) for a final conclusion.

Provisional results of the presidential poll are scheduled for December 6, and parliamentary results in January (after 45 days). Incumbent President Joseph Kabila has promised to step down if he loses, but has also declared “I know one thing for sure, I will not lose.” Etienne Tshisekedi, the main opposition candidate, is equally confident, although he too says he will accept defeat – if the elections are deemed well organized. But, David Lewis and Jonny Hogg report, Tshisekedi warned that “people would ‘take matters into their own hands’ if it was judged dishonest” – and as the campaigns leading up to the election demonstrate, Tshisekedi is capable of rallying large numbers of supporters to the streets.

Congo’s next test, then, will be next week and next month when the election results are made public. I don’t have a particularly optimistic view of how things might unfold, with four opposition candidates calling for the results to be canceled, the main opposition candidate already calling himself the president, and a defiant Kabila saying he will step down but also that he is determined to win. And the elimination of the second round of elections from the electoral law earlier this year simply intensifies the suspicions of opposition parties and their supporters regarding the legitimacy of these elections.

For now, the United Nations and the European Union are urging for calm, and a tense four days lie ahead before the winner of the presidential poll is announced.