The Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country, looks set to witness its first-ever transfer of power via the ballot box after opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, 55, was declared the provisional winner of Dec. 30 presidential elections. The result, which the Constitutional Court still needs to validate, flew in the face of expectations that outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s protege, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, would win. Rival opposition leader Martin Fayulu described the outcome as “unacceptable electoral fraud” and said he wouldn’t allow the election to be stolen.
1. What did the official results show?
Tshisekedi garnered 7.05 million votes, Fayulu 6.37 million and Shadary 4.36 million, according to tallies released by the National Independent Electoral Commission in the capital, Kinshasa. About 18.3 million votes were cast, a turnout of less than 50 percent.
2. Why is Fayulu crying foul?
A former Exxon Mobil Corp. manager who heads a small party in the National Assembly and won backing from several heavyweight politicians, Fayulu alleges that the results were fabricated. He’d previously complained about broken voting machines, delays and vote-buying on election day. The New York Times cited a senior adviser to Kabila as saying that a body representing Congo’s Catholic bishops believes Fayulu won based on results collected by members of its 40,000-strong observer mission.
3. So was the vote credible?
That depends on who you ask. The electoral commission postponed balloting in three regions until March, citing concerns about an Ebola outbreak and militia violence, which effectively deprived 1.2 million people in opposition strongholds from having a say on who will be the next president. The margin of victory announced Thursday suggests their votes won’t sway the outcome however . Also, despite the presence of more than 16,000 United Nations peacekeepers, Congo’s government refused logistical support from the UN and financial assistance from international donors to organize the vote, which was initially supposed to be in late 2016. The chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time of the election described it as “neither free nor fair.” An observer mission from the Southern African Development Community said in a preliminary report that the elections “were relatively well managed and the electoral process unfolded relatively well.” An African Union team also endorsed the handling of the vote.
4. Why was Shadary expected to win?
While pre-election polling by New York University’s Congo Research Group showed the two main opposition candidates enjoyed the most support, there were serious doubts as to whether the government would accept an opposition victory. The Kabila family has led Congo for more than 20 years -- the outgoing president succeeded his assassinated father, Laurent-Desire, in 2001 before winning elections in 2006 and again five years later. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, Kabila handpicked Shadary, a loyalist former interior minister, to run for the ruling Common Front for Congo coalition, fueling suspicions that he intended to remain the power behind the throne. After realizing that Shadary was unlikely to win, Kabila may have negotiated a deal with Tshisekedi in return for immunity from prosecution and protection for his family’s vast business interests, according to Robert Besseling, the executive director of business risk consultancy, Exx Africa.
5. Who is Tshisekedi?
He’s the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, Congo’s oldest and second-biggest political party, a post he assumed after the death of his father, Etienne, in February 2017. He teamed up with Vital Kamerhe, who finished third in a 2011 vote, and they’ve agreed that Tshisekedi would serve as president and Kamerhe as his prime minister, swapping roles after the next election in 2023. Tshisekedi has pledged to clamp down on rampant corruption, enhance security and promote development.
6. What are the risks going forward?
The disputed result could lead to legal challenges and a prolonged period of political uncertainty -- the last thing that’s needed in a nation already confronting rampant poverty and insecurity, particularly in the eastern regions. There also may be further fallout from the claim by the Catholic bishops’ organization that it knew of a clear winner before the official results announcement, especially if it publicly disputes the electoral commission’s figures. The commission and Shadary’s campaign have already accused the group of violating the constitution and the law in a manner that could spark a popular revolt.
7. What are investors watching?
Congo, a nation of about 81 million, accounts for two-thirds of global production of cobalt, a metal used in rechargeable batteries needed by electric vehicles, and has deposits of gold, diamonds, tin and coltan, an ore that contains a metal used in mobile phones. The prospective change of administration may spur optimism among mining investors including Glencore Plc and Barrick Gold Corp. that they can reverse elements of a fiercely disputed new industry code that raised royalties and added taxes. The economy is forecast to grow 3.8 percent this year, and an average of 4.3 percent annually over the next three years, according to the International Monetary Fund.
--With assistance from Paul Richardson.
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