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DR Congo divided over opposition chief's election

Thursday's announcement that an opposition candidate had won the December race to replace President Joseph Kabila was a historic first for the country.

FILE: UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi looks at supporters during a rally in Kinshasa on 24 April 2018, the first opposition rally authorised since September 2016. Picture: AFP.

KINSHASA - With DR Congo still reeling from the disputed victory of opposition challenger Felix Tshisekedi, the nation's attention turned Friday to the results of the legislative elections to see who will control parliament for the next five years.

In a country that has never known a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, Thursday's announcement that an opposition candidate had won the December race to replace President Joseph Kabila was a historic first.

But the legitimacy of Tshisekedi's victory was immediately called into question, with his opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who came a close second, dismissing the result out of hand as an "electoral coup".

And the powerful Roman Catholic Church also said the outcome of the troubled 30 December vote did not tally with data its own observers collected, raising serious questions about the credibility of figures released by the CENI election commission.

Analysts said it was likely Kabila had struck a deal with 55-year-old opposition chief to avoid a violent backlash and the international condemnation that would have followed if his handpicked-successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary had been named.

The provisional results declared Tshisekedi victor with 38.57% of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8%. Shadary came a distant third with 23.8%.

The pre-dawn announcement brought thousands of Tshisekedi supporters onto the streets in celebration, while others who had backed Fayulu came out to protest, with five people killed in the resulting clashes with police.

"These results have nothing to do with the truth at the ballot box," Fayulu told Radio France International.

At stake is political stewardship of the mineral rich but notoriously unstable central African nation which has a population of some 80 million and covers an area the size of western Europe.

Any disputes must be lodged within the next nine days at the Constitutional Court, which will play a decisive role in how such issues are resolved.

PROTESTS TURN DEADLY

CENI is to announce Friday the result of the legislative elections which took place on the same day, with more than 15,000 candidates in the running.

The result will determine who will hold a majority in the 500-seat parliament for the next five years.

The outgoing National Assembly, which took power in 2011, is currently dominated by Kabila supporters who, even ahead of the announcement, were already claiming to have won a majority.

Also Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to discuss the situation in the deeply poor nation.

The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the result lacks credibility.

In Kinshasa, the news sparked wild celebrations among Tshisekedi's supporters, who danced and sang late into the night after the surprise victory of a man who has never held high office or even a managerial role.

Addressing them, Tshisekedi's first words were a tribute to Kabila whom he described as as "a partner for democratic change".

But elsewhere the mood was bitter.

"They've stolen our victory," shouted angry Fayulu supporters in the northeastern city of Kisangani where police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse the crowds.

And in the western city of Kikwit, angry protests turned deadly on Thursday as police sought to break up the demonstrators.

Five civilians died in the unrest, police said Friday, denying that two police officers were among the dead.

DOUBTS OF THE FAITHFUL

CENCO - which represents DR Congo's Catholic bishops - openly disputed the result, saying it "does not correspond with the data collected by our observer mission from polling stations and counting centres."

Analysts said the Church's perspective would not go unnoticed.

"The Catholic Church's congregation comprises about half the population and is arguably DRC’s most influential organisation," said Robert Besseling, executive director of risk consultancy EXX Africa.

"CENCO's word on the election results will therefore be heeded by many Congolese, who suspect the vote remains rigged."

Abroad, the mood was watchful, marked by a noticeable lack of congratulations for Tshisekedi.

Many have eyed the developments in sub-Saharan Africa's largest country with concern, with the United Nations leading calls to avoid violence.

France dismissed Tshisekedi's victory, while Washington demanded "clarification" of the result while calling for calm.

And on Friday, the European Union said that given that the results were contested by Fayulu and the Church, it was important that CENI "release the minutes of what took place in each counting centre".

Kabila's hold on power beyond the end of his final term two years ago sparked an escalating political crisis and protests that were bloodily repressed.

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