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First-ever win by opposition presidential candidate in Congo marred by claims of election rigging

First-ever win by opposition presidential candidate in Congo marred by claims of election rigging
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The first-ever win by an opposition presidential candidate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is being marred by claims by a rival that Felix Tshisekedi’s victory was the result of rigging by the electoral authorities.

Official results show Tshisekedi, 55, beat the protege of outgoing President Joseph Kabila, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, to become leader of the world’s biggest cobalt producer. Fayulu immediately described the outcome as “an unacceptable electoral fraud.” The Constitutional Court has the final word on the validity of the vote.

The public legitimacy of the election may ride on the verdict of the influential body representing Congo’s Catholic bishops that said that results gathered at polling stations during the Dec. 30 vote by its 40,000 observers showed a clear winner, without naming the person. The New York Times cited a senior adviser to Kabila as saying the Catholic group believed Fayulu, rather than Tshisekedi, won comfortably.

In this Dec. 30, 2018, file photo, ruling party presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary casts his vote in Kinshasa, Congo. Jerome Delay/AP

“If we find that the results of the Catholic Church are not the same as those of the electoral commission, we will know there was a change of plan,” said Stephanie Wolters, head of the peace and security research program at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “Those of us who have followed this very closely have all been told that there were conversations behind the scenes between Tshisekedi and Kabila.”

The scion of long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who died two years ago, he pledged to clamp down on rampant corruption, enhance security and promote development.

If the court confirms his victory, he will inherit an economy that’s been buffeted by slowing growth since a commodity-price crash in 2014. It expanded fivefold under outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s 18-year rule as a tiny elite amassed large fortunes while most of Congo’s 80 million people live in grinding poverty. He’ll also face ongoing insurgencies by more than 100 militia groups in the mineral-rich east of the country that’s also in the grip of an Ebola outbreak.

Supporters of the newly elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, celebrate in the streets in Kinshasa on January 10, 2019. JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images

Congo accounts for two-thirds of global production of cobalt, a metal used in rechargeable batteries, and has deposits of gold, diamonds, tin, copper 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.

Tension over the vote, which already been delayed two years, had been building after it was postponed for a week and then the electoral commission released the results three days later than scheduled. That prompted speculation about how the agency was handling the counting process.

SYMOCEL, a group of Congolese civil society organizations which deployed 20,000 election observers, said in a report on Tuesday there had been major irregularities at the results-compilation centres.

You know that this proclamation is the fruit of results trafficked, invented and fabricated

Martin Fayulu

“You know that this proclamation is the fruit of results trafficked, invented and fabricated,” Fayulu told reporters after the results were announced. “These results have nothing to do with the truth of the ballot box.”

Tshisekedi will owe a debt to Kabila because the president still wields control over the electoral commission, Robert Besseling, a Johannesburg-based executive director at business risk consultancy Exx Africa, said in an emailed note.

“At least initially, Tshisekedi will be dependent on the political favor of Kabila, who seeks immunity from prosecution and protection for his family’s substantial business interests,” he said.

With assistance from Pauline Bax.

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