Vote counting continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after episodes of irregularity reported in the general elections held on Dec. 20.
As the country awaits the announcement of the first preliminary results later the day amid visible tensions, Moise Katumbi, one of the main opposition candidates in the presidential race, has said on Saturday that the elections on Dec. 20 should be “annulled” because of “massive fraud”.
EPISODES OF IRREGULARITY
Some 44 million voters in the DRC go to the polls Wednesday to elect a new president, members of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies, as well as municipal councilors, with delays in deployment of voting materials and reports of sporadic violence at some polling stations. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), the electoral body, extended the polling till Dec. 21, admitting that some polling stations failed to open due to logistics problems that led to the massive polling delay across the country.
According to local media, polling still continued on Sunday in some parts of the country where polling stations suffered from major delays of voting materials. “Faced with this unacceptable situation, we call for the immediate annulment of these chaotic elections, marred by massive fraud as documented by all stakeholders,” read a statement by Katumbi, a major challenger to the outgoing President Felix Tshisekedi, who is seeking reelection.
According to preliminary results announced late Friday by CENI, Tshisekedi leads in diaspora vote tallies in South Africa, Belgium, Canada, the United States and France, with Katumbi standing in second place in general. Other presidential candidates also contested the episodes of irregularity during the voting process, as the extension of polling goes against the electoral law and the Constitution.
The “irregularities sufficiently attest that on Dec. 20, 2023, it was a sham election, organized in violation of the fundamental right of the Congolese people”, according to a statement of five presidential candidates on Saturday, including Martin Fayulu, Denis Mukwege, two main challengers in the race. Full provisional election results are expected on Dec. 31, as CENI would publish daily updates starting on Sunday.
Visible tensions are running high since the beginning of the polling on Dec. 20, like the previous ones. In 2018, Tshisekedi came to power by winning the 2018 election, marking the country’s “first peaceful transfer of power” since independence from Belgium, according to the United Nations. The five presidential candidates announced on Saturday to launch a massive demonstration in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, on Dec. 27 to denounce the irregularities in the electoral process. The demonstration would start from the Triumphal boulevard, right to the headquarters of CENI, downtown of Kinshasa.
On Saturday, 13 embassies in Kinshasa released a joint statement calling for restraint. “We call on All stakeholders, in particular political actors, candidates and their supporters, to continue to exercise restraint, allow time for the process to continue and to assert their challenges peacefully, in accordance with the laws and the Constitution”, read the statement. A Belgian IT expert, deployed by the European Union to support the elections, fell from the 12th floor of his hotel and died late Saturday. According to local media, an investigation has been opened into the incident.
The eastern part of the country, long-plagued by conflicts and rebel attacks for decades, has seen unrest reignited as the country is currently going through a major political transition. On Dec. 21, the day after the general elections, fighting resumed between the government military and rebels of the March 23 Movement (M23) in the Masisi territory of the North Kivu province. The rebel group, which resurfaced in late 2021, has triggered conflicts and major humanitarian crises and seized major strongholds on the Congolese soil.
On Dec. 15, several days before the polling, Corneille Nangaa, a Congolese opposition figure in exile, formed a political-military alliance “Alliance Fleuve Congo” (AFC), with M23 rebels and other armed groups in order to “save the country”. On Saturday, RED-Tabara, a rebel group based in eastern DRC, claimed responsibility for an attack that left 20 dead late Friday night in Burundi’s border town with DRC. RED-Tabara has been battling Burundi’s government since 2015. Several regions in the eastern part of the DRC, still occupied by the rebels, are excluded from holding the elections due to a lack of voter registration.
Tshisekedi and leading opposition candidates, including Martin Fayulu, Moise Katumbi, and Dennis Mukwege, have all campaigned in the east, promising a respite from the violence. The restive North Kivu province also witnessed a further deterioration in the security situation, with rising regional tensions between the DRC and Rwanda, which increases the risk of direct military confrontation that could involve Burundi. The DRC has the largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the African continent. Years of violence and insecurity have driven 5.7 million people from their homes, and in Ituri and North Kivu provinces, violence has increased recently, including against civilians living in displacement sites, according to the United Nations.