Congo declares that Felix Tshisekedi won the election and calls into question an independent review

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Congolese election officials, rejecting the independent assessment that one of the opposition figures was the winner of the recent presidential election, Thursday awarded victory to a candidate deemed more acceptable to incumbent President Joseph Kabila.

The decision wiped out any hope that the Democratic Republic of the Congo will experience its first uncontested transfer of power through the polls since independence six decades ago. And we did not know how it would be with the people.

Nevertheless, as malleable as the declared winner, Felix Tshisekedi, Mr. Kabila, he was not his first choice. Mr. Kabila had supported one of the main collaborators to succeed him.

The early announcement by the electoral commission was an official surprise that Kabila's candidate had suffered such a huge defeat that his government – in power for 18 years – simply could not hand over the presidency without risking widespread violence and international condemnation.

However, Mr. Tshisekedi was not seen as the main purpose of the votes; He was declared the winner on Thursday as his campaign resulted in a power-sharing deal with the Kabila government.

Tshisekedi reportedly left out another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, according to polls conducted shortly before the December 30 vote.

Fayulu rejected the official results "categorically" on Thursday, calling them an "electoral scam" that could lead to chaos in the country. Addressing reporters, he called on youth and the international community to "fight to restore the truth on the ballot box".

External observers and institutions also considered that the real winner was Mr Fayulu, according to the voting data compiled by the Roman Catholic Church, one of Congo's few trusted institutions. The National Episcopal Conference of Congo, a group of Catholic bishops, sent 40,000 observers to the country's polling stations.

The government's announcement "does not match the data collected by our mission of observation," the Catholic bishops said in a statement released Thursday. But they did not explicitly name Mr. Fayulu – or whoever else – as the winner.

On Wednesday, as Congolese waited for an announcement about their next leader, a Washington-based advocacy group, the Enough Project, issued a warning. "Civil society, church and opposition leaders are expressing grave concern that the electoral commission is announcing a fraudulent result," the group said in a statement.

Last week, the group of bishops said that polling station data clearly showed the winner, but he failed to identify him because he was not there. 39, legal authority to do so. Instead, the group demanded that the electoral commission, widely perceived by the public as an extension of the government, publish accurate results.

Even though the group of bishops did not name a winner, officials who spoke privately with church officials stated that the group had identified Mr. Fayulu as having won.

In the run-up to elections, a number of investigations suggested that if the elections were free and fair, Mr Fayulu would be the favorite. Opinion polls showed it with 47% support, against 24% for Tshisekedi and 19% for Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the successor of Mr Kabila.

Riot police were positioned around Kinshasa, the capital, especially near the electoral commission. Due to the threat of violence, the US embassy urged Americans to leave the country.

South African election observers said the vote was "relatively good", given the relatively low level of election-related violence in a country almost as big as Western Europe.

A Congo-based observer mission, Symocel, said there were "big" irregularities, including people altering results or counting centers that did not display vote count sheets at the time. public view, as required by law.

On Wednesday, before the announcement of the outcome, South African and Zambian Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Edgar Lungu issued a joint statement calling on the Congo Electoral Commission to "quickly" complete the count and declare the winner. According to the statement, the delay "may lead to suspicions and jeopardize the peace and stability of the country".

The electoral commission announced Thursday that Tshisekedi had garnered more than seven million votes over more than six million votes from Fayulu, the Associated Press reported. Shadary garnered more than four million votes, he said.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Friday to discuss the outcome of the elections, which has been publicly questioned by France and Belgium.

"The credibility of the elections will only exist if the Congolese themselves recognize this credibility," Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, one of the new members of the Security Council, told Belgian radio. RTBF Thursday.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a carefully drafted speech declaration recognizing the provisional results and urging all Congolese to "refrain from any violence" in the event of a dispute. His spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, refused to say he considered the result fair.

"We do not have a mandate nor are we able to bless these results," Dujarric told reporters Thursday at the UN headquarters in New York. He stated that the central message of the Secretary General was to ensure calm.

The vote seemed tainted from the beginning. The election was delayed by two years while Mr. Kabila was trying to amend the Constitution to allow him to stay in office beyond the two-term limit. He broke the promise to hold elections in 2017.

While he was clinging to power, security forces bombed protesters and arrested hundreds of people as the government tried to stifle any resistance. Shadary, the former Interior Minister, supported by Kabila in the elections, has recently been placed on the European Union sanctions list for brutally suppressing protesters in 2017 .

Last year, Kabila stunned the country by agreeing not to run in the 2018 elections. He then announced his chosen successor, Mr. Shadary, on the last day to allow candidates to register.

Yet in a recent interviewKabila would not rule out a return to power in the future.

The electoral process was further disrupted by the government's refusal to allow major Western election observers and international donor funds to participate.

In what some have called the coup de grace, the week before the elections, a mysterious election destroyed materials in a depot in Kinshasa. The electoral commission used the fire as a reason to postpone the vote for a week. During the same week, he also stated that violence and an Ebola outbreak in the east and southwest were grounds exclude voters The. They represent about 4% of the electorate.

In the 10 days following the vote, rumors surfed of behind-the-scenes negotiations to transfer power to Mr Tshisekedi. He is the son of a charismatic leader, Étienne Tshisekedi, who died two years ago and whose name still resonates throughout the country.

"The regime could consider an agreement with Tshisekedi for several reasons," said Adeline Van Houtte, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Tshisekedi's opposition coalition, Cape for Change, is in a weak position, Van Houtte said. In itself, she said, it would not have won the election. And Fayulu's campaign, she said, "seems to have numbers that support her victory and the key – even if it is unofficial – for the support of the Catholic Church and the International community".

For Kabila, said Van Houtte, a Tshisekedi presidency "would be easier to manage than a Fayulu presidency", which would be the "worst case scenario" for its ruling coalition.

Mr. Fayulu "does not intend to protect the Kabila regime," said Ms. Van Houtte, adding that he was running anti-government demonstrations and that he was considered an "extremist" by the regime.

Mr Fayulu had stated that he would not seek revenge from Kabila officials when he won. But, said Ms. Van Houtte, he was supposed to "suppress the pervasive corruption networks in the country, which is probably feared Kabila, his entourage and the elite of the country."