DR Congo election panel may delay provisional results

DRC's Electoral Commission President Corneille Nangaa Yobeluo.
DRC's Electoral Commission President Corneille Nangaa Yobeluo.
Image: Luis TATO / AFP

Democratic Republic of Congo's election commission may have to postpone publication of provisional results from the long-awaited presidential vote, the panel's chairman told AFP on Thursday.

"We are working around the clock. We are doing our best to publish the results on January 6. But if we can't, we can't," said Corneille Nangaa, head of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI).

DR Congo, which is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country and one of its most unstable, has been buffeted by political turbulence for the past two years.

President Joseph Kabila, 47, should have stepped down at the end of 2016 when his constitutionally-limited two terms in office expired.

But he invoked a caretaker clause in the constitution to stay on, sparking protests which were ruthlessly crushed, leaving scores dead.

After repeated delays, the long-awaited presidential election to chose his successor was held on Sunday.

Tensions have however risen over the marathon counting process with opposition fears running high that the result will be rigged to favour Kabila's preferred successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

CENI had pledged to issue provisional results by January 6 -- with the timetable confirmed by the commission on Tuesday.

Definitive results are due out on January 15, with the new president to be sworn in three days later.

'Manual count'

Compiling the votes by hand was the biggest hurdle, Nangaa said.

Each electoral area is responsible for counting its own votes, then sending a report on the tally along with the actual ballots cast to a "result centralisation" centre which compiles all the data.

But the road network is notoriously poor in DR Congo, a vast country which is the size of continental western Europe.

CENI had installed electronic voting machines to speed up the ballot, with voters selecting their candidate via a touchscreen which would then print out the relevant ballot form.

That form would then be placed into the ballot box.

CENI had wanted "to be able to transmit the results from the voting machines to help us publish the results quickly but nobody wanted that procedure," Nangaa said.

The opposition had fiercely criticised the machines, describing them as vulnerable to hacking and manipulation.

"As the machines are not connected to anything," the business of collecting and collating the reports "is being done manually", Nangaa said.

"We had proposed a solution" to overcome DRC's infrastructure problems, he said, "but it was rejected, and now we have to live with the situation."

A rebuke from Paris

Within hours of clearing the first hurdle of potential violence on polling day, the elections ran into their next challenge - claims of victory and entrenched suspicions about electoral fraud.

Kabila's champion Shadary, a hardliner and former interior minister, claimed victory as did Emmanuel Tshisekedi, head of the UDPS, the country's oldest and largest opposition party.

But the few opinion polls conducted before the vote signalled Martin Fayulu - a little-known legislator and former oil executive - as the clear favourite.

As tensions escalated, the authorities cut off internet access and blocked broadcasts by Radio France Internationale, the French public-service broadcaster which has a huge following in DRC, withdrawing its correspondent's accreditation.

It has accused RFI of fanning controversy by "declaring results (and) trends" - an allegation the broadcaster denies.

The move to cut internet access and block RFI broadcasts drew a sharp rebuke from Paris on Thursday.

Respect for the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression was "a key element in guaranteeing the transparency and credibility of the ongoing electoral process" in DR Congo, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Warning the media 

But Kinshasa appeared unbowed by the rebuke, issuing another warning to the foreign press on Thursday.

"Only CENI is empowered to announce and publish the voting results," warned Communications Minister Lambert Mende, who is also Shadary's spokesman.

DR Congo has never known a peaceful handover of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and many fear there will be renewed bloodshed if the results lack credibility.

The country lived through two fully-fledged wars between 1996 and 2003 that claimed millions of lives through bloodshed, fighting, starvation and disease.

Violence also marred elections in 2006 and 2011.

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