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Congo opposition candidate Fayulu to challenge poll results

Baz Ratner, Reuters | Martin Fayulu addresses a press conference in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 8, 2019.

Martin Fayulu, the declared runner-up in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election, said on Friday he would challenge the results in the country’s highest court over the weekend.

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Fayulu spoke to hundreds of supporters who gathered in the capital, Kinshasa, to denounce what they called "the people's stolen victory."

Reporting from Kinshasa, FRANCE 24’s Thomas Nicolon explained that Fayulu addressed supporters Friday at the headquarters of opposition politician Jean-Pierre Bemba’s party. Bemba was barred from standing in the December election due to a pending case at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Earlier Friday, Mr. Fayulu spoke to a few thousand supporters in the MLC [Movement for the Liberation of the Congo] headquarters. The MLC is Jean-Pierre Bemba’s political party, he is backing Mr. Fayulu for this election. Mr. Fayulu spoke in Lingala only today, not in French, and he told his supporters that he was going to the Constitutional Court to file an appeal on Saturday morning. The reason why he will file an appeal is that according to his numbers, he has won the election,” explained Nicolon.

The national electoral commission on Thursday declared another opposition leader, Felix Tshisekedi, the winner of the December 30 election, but Fayulu's campaign says its tallies show that Fayulu won a landslide victory with 61 percent of the vote.

>> DR Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi: From opposition scion to provisional president-elect

Fayulu’s announcement on Friday was declared in the presence of a heavy police force after violence escalated overnight following the release of the provisional poll results.

A businessman and vocal campaigner against Congo's widespread corruption, Fayulu accuses outgoing President Joseph Kabila of making a backroom deal with the surprise declared winner, the politically inexperienced, Tshisekedi.

The Catholic Church, the rare authority that many Congolese find trustworthy, has said its 40,000 election observers found a different winner from the official results but it has not given details.

Fayulu's coalition on Friday asserted that the church's findings showed Tshisekedi received 18 percent of the vote, just ahead of ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

‘We will challenge them’

Fayulu urged that Congo's electoral commission publish detailed results, polling station by polling station, and said he would file his court challenge on Saturday morning.

"Those who have been silly enough to publish false results, we will challenge them," he said.

Congolese face the extraordinary situation of an election allegedly rigged in favor of the opposition after Kabila's preferred candidate, Shadary, did poorly in the polls. Fayulu's coalition said Shadary received just 18 percent of the vote.

The electoral commission early Thursday announced that Tshisekedi had won with 38 percent of the vote while Fayulu received 34 percent.

"Change cannot be negotiated behind closed doors and power only comes from the ballot, there is no other way," said Fayulu supporter Jean Otaba, 28. "You can see there is no massive celebration despite the announcement. That's because it is not the truth."

This could be Congo's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960, but observers have warned that a court challenge could spin the long-troubled country into chaos. Some Fayulu supporters are worried that the constitutional court could invalidate the election results, keeping Kabila in power until a new vote.

As night fell on Thursday, scores of police with automatic rifles and tear gas launchers were positioned along a road in Kinshasa leading to the Kingabwa neighborhood, a Fayulu stronghold. Elsewhere, the nation of 80 million has remained largely calm, though police said three people were killed in Kikwit city on Thursday as people protested the results. Some students protested in the city of Mbandaka on Friday.

Internet service in Congo, cut off the day after the December 30 vote, had not yet been restored.

Differences between Western countries and Russia-China at UN session

Careful statements by the international community have not congratulated Tshisekedi, merely taking note of official results and urging peace and stability in a country with little of it.

At a special UN Security Council session on Congo Friday, the CENCO Catholic bishops group called on the international body to ask the country’s electoral commission to release the records of vote-counting at the polling stations to allow for verification.

"This might dispel doubt among the population as to the outcome and may therefore set minds at rest," said Bishop Marcel Utembi, head of CENCO.

However the head of the country’s election commission, CENI, called on the Security Council to support the results of the poll.

Addressing the session via videoconference from Kinshasa, CENI head Corneille Nangaa said, "There are only two options to address this: either to confirm the result of the CENI or to cancel the election," he said. "Cancelling the election would mean that the institutions in place would continue to remain in place because we would not have a president until new elections are organised," he added.

Reporting from New York, FRANCE 24’s Jessica Le Masurier noted that there appeared to be differing views within the Security Council on the issue. “We’re really seeing very divergent opinions in the Security Council meeting, with France and Western powers casting doubt almost on the official results,” said Le Masurier. “But then the Russian ambassador [to the UN] and the Chinese ambassador really didn’t mince their words, they said that there shouldn’t be any foreign meddling, really pointing the finger of blame at France and other Western powers,” she added.

Fears of Kabila still calling the shots

Tshisekedi had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Long in the shadow of his father, the late opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, he startled Congo last year by breaking away from the opposition's unity candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

Fayulu, a former Exxon manager and Kinshasa lawmaker, was a vocal activist during the turbulent two-year delay in Congo's election, insisting it was time for Kabila to go as many feared the president would find a way to stay in office and protect his vast assets obtained from Congo's staggering mineral wealth.

Fayulu was backed by two popular opposition leaders barred by the government from running.

The difference between Tshisekedi and Fayulu in official results was some 684,000 votes. Some observers said the 1 million voters who were barred at the last minute, with Congo's electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak, could have made the difference. Elsewhere, election observers reported numerous problems including malfunctioning voting machines and polling stations that opened hours late.

Several Congo analysts said it appeared Kabila made a quiet agreement with Tshisekedi, saying Fayulu would have posed more of a threat to his interests and allies and that Tshisekedi was more malleable. Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo's most prominent opposition party only in early 2018, a year after his father's death.

After results were announced, Tshisekedi said Kabila would be an "important partner" in the power transition.

"Felix Tshisekedi has been compromised," said Tamuzi Mandar, a local official with Fayulu's Lamuka coalition. "What is finally revealed is that he is not opposition. His father was, but not him."

"Felix betrayed the people by licking Kabila's plate," said Joel Ituka Kuzembe, 25, who said he spent nine months in prison for participating in the protests that demanded that Kabila step down.

Kabila has ruled since 2001 in the Central African nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world. He is barred from serving three consecutive terms but has hinted that he could run again in 2023.

"There is a lot of sadness in the country," said Bob Vonda, 35, a lawyer. "You can see people are not celebrating apart from a very small part. People feel they have been robbed."

Preliminary results from DRC's election
Preliminary results from DRC's election France 24 screen grabs

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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