KINSHASA, Congo — Congo’s historic yet disorganized election suffered yet another delay on Sunday as the election commission admitted it had tabulated only about half of results on the day it was supposed to have completed the count. It did not say when it would be able to release results.
The delay fuels suspicions that the election commission is compromised and using the borrowed time to rig results in favor of president Joseph Kabila’s chosen successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. A vote widely perceived to have been manipulated could trigger violence in Congo, which has been plagued by civil wars and insurrections for decades.
Congo voted on Dec. 30 to replace Kabila, who is stepping down after 18 years in power. Shadary is up against two main opposition candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi. The vote was initially scheduled for 2016, but Kabila repeatedly delayed it, staying on two years past his constitutionally mandated term limit.
Most foreign election observers were either not invited or not accredited, but the vote was overseen at least partially by 40,000 observers from Congo’s powerful Catholic Church. That mission, known as CENCO, announced Thursday that its own tallies showed a clear win for Fayulu. Fayulu told The Post that his team had “extremely conclusive” evidence that he had won.
The electoral commission responded with anger to the statement from the observer mission, saying it was “likely to brainwash the population while preparing an insurrection that CENCO alone will be responsible for.”
The ruling coalition called CENCO’s statement “irresponsible and anarchic,” adding that only the election commission was legally allowed to release results.
CENCO’s report also said that 38 percent of polling stations that it observed were missing materials at the start of election day, and that in hundreds of cases ballot boxes were not sealed before counting and polling stations did not properly verify voters’ identities. CENCO’s report was particularly powerful because nearly half of Congo is Catholic, and the church has been a consistent thorn in Kabila’s side.
Congo’s government has shut off Internet and text-messaging capabilities in most of the country since the day after elections, and maintains that those services will remain unavailable until official results are released to prevent the sharing of doctored results.
A win by Fayulu that is recognized by Kabila’s party would mark a historic break for Congo, which has never experienced a peaceful, democratic transition of power. Fayulu is a former employee of the Exxon oil company who has been a member of Congo’s parliament for more than a decade. He is now backed by two regional political heavyweights, one of whom was recently acquitted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
The United States government has been the loudest foreign voice of consternation at the vote’s irregularities. A State Department spokesman urged the election commission on Friday to release accurate results and said those that prevent a fair count would be subject to U.S. sanctions.
“There are moments in every nation’s history when individuals and political leaders step forward and do the right thing. This is one of those moments for the DRC,” said Robert Palladino. “Those who undermine the democratic process, threaten the peace, security or stability of the DRC, or benefit from corruption may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the U.S. financial system.”
President Trump said Friday that 80 U.S. military personnel had deployed to nearby Gabon in anticipation of violent demonstrations stemming from a disputed results announcement. Evacuation of American nationals appeared to be their main mission, but many in Congo read the deployment as a form of pressure on the government as well.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Trump said the troops “will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed.”
South Africa, Russia and China expressed dismay at CENCO’s statement, saying the election commission was the only institution whose announcement would be considered official. China, a major investor in Congo, “lauded the manner in which elections were conducted,” a report from the U.N. Security Council said on Saturday.