DR Congo Catholic Church says knows who won election, urges 'truth'

The appeal from the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) came hours after the election commission said logistical problems may force it to postpone publication of provisional results from Sunday's ballot.

FILE: People wait to vote at Katendere polling station in Goma on 30 December 2018, during Democratic Republic of Congo's general elections. Picture: AFP

KINSHASA - Congo's powerful Roman Catholic Church on Thursday said it knew who had won a much-delayed election and challenged vote overseers to disclose the "truth" after they said the results may be delayed.

The appeal from the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) came hours after the election commission said logistical problems may force it to postpone publication of provisional results from Sunday's ballot.

"Data in (CENCO's) possession from the vote counting reports from polling stations designates the selection of one candidate as president," said spokesman Father Donatien Nshole.

It called on the election panel "to publish the election results in keeping with truth and justice," he said.
CENCO says it deployed more than 40,000 observers to monitor Sunday's vote, the first presidential ballot since 2011.

Monitors noted some "irregularities" in Sunday's voting, Nshole said.

But, he stressed, "these were not able to significantly affect the choice which the Congolese people clearly expressed through the ballot box."

Western powers and Democratic Republic of Congo's neighbours hope sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country will see its first peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960.

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

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

Elections to succeed him were delayed several times before they finally took place, and were further postponed in several areas hit by violence.

Tensions have risen further 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.

The Independent National Election Commission (CENI) has scheduled to unveil the provisional results on Sunday, followed by the definitive results on 15 January and inauguration of the next president three days later.

But on Thursday, CENI chief Corneille Nangaa told AFP that provisional results may be delayed.

"We are working around the clock. We are doing our best to publish the results on 6 January. But if we can't, we can't," Nangaa said.

Nangaa later told a news conference that election officials had collected about 20% of the results needed. Results from all 73,000 voting stations would then be consolidated, he said.

MANUAL COUNT

Nangaa said the biggest hurdle facing CENI was compiling the votes by hand.

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 the size of continental western Europe.

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

The paper would then be placed in the ballot box and be counted.

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.

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, and Emmanuel Tshisekedi, head of the UDPS, the country's oldest and largest opposition party, each said they had won.

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

The DRC 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.