Candidate Alleges 'Massive Fraud' in Congo Vote

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

KINSHASA, Congo, Aug. 1 -- One of Congo's four vice presidents said Tuesday that a historic national election on Sunday was marred by "massive fraud" that must be remedied through new balloting in at least some parts of the country.

Azarias Ruberwa, the former leader of a Rwandan-backed rebel group who ran for president as head of Congolese Rally for Democracy, charged that officials from the nation's Independent Electoral Commission stuffed ballot boxes to help President Joseph Kabila in Congo's first multiparty vote since 1960.

"We didn't have an election that was free, fair or democratic," Ruberwa said during a news conference on the front lawn of his official residence on the banks of the Congo River.

Kabila's spokesman, Kudura Kasongo, disputed Ruberwa's allegations, saying the vote was fair.

"It was free, clearly, absolutely," Kasongo said.

Kinshasa, the capital, remained quiet, with heavy patrols by Congolese police and U.N. troops. Ruberwa and the 31 other presidential candidates awaited the release of official results, due by Aug. 20, but analysts and other campaigns said Ruberwa was not among the front-runners.

The leading candidates, analysts said, were Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, who, like Ruberwa, was a rebel leader before becoming a vice president. The two top candidates' bases of support split the country, with Kabila ahead in eastern Congo and Bemba ahead in the west, including Kinshasa, both campaigns said.

It is not clear whether either won a majority of the votes. If no candidate gets a majority, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held Oct. 29.

The elections have been hailed by the United Nations, the United States and many Congolese as a major step toward stability for a country racked by war, destruction and poverty since the toppling of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

Electoral commission spokesman Delion Kimbulumpu said the agency had no knowledge of officials improperly assisting candidates but would investigate complaints by Ruberwa or any other Congolese.

"The electoral commission will not let any irregularities go unpunished," Kimbulumpu said.

Also Tuesday, a team of election monitors from the Atlanta-based Carter Center said the election was run in a "generally peaceful and orderly manner."

But the center, which had 58 observers in the country, expressed concern about last-minute changes to the voters list, biased news coverage and abuse of governmental authority to assist candidates. Their observation will continue, Carter Center officials said, until the results are complete. They also said they would investigate Ruberwa's claims.

Special correspondent Claude Kamanga Mutond contributed to this report.

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