Tense wait for poll results in DRC

2011-12-05 10:30

Kinshasa - DR Congo President Joseph Kabila led chief rival Etienne Tshisekedi 49% to 34% with about half of polling centres counted on Sunday, as fears of post-poll violence drove thousands from the capital.

The vast central African state is enduring a tense wait before the election commission announces the winner of the presidential race on Tuesday, a result the Supreme Court must then review and confirm by December 17.

Fearing unrest around the announcement, more than 3 000 people have fled Kinshasa this weekend for Brazzaville, the capital of neighbouring Congo, an immigration official said on Sunday.

The Democratic Republic of Congo's influential bishops meanwhile warned Sunday that the political situation reminded them of "a high-speed train going straight toward a wall", and echoed appeals for calm from the UN Security Council, the EU, the US and international election monitors.

"It's important to us to exhort the Congolese people to remember how much our country has regressed because of the lack of restraint that, in the past, has brought about violence, pillaging and the destruction of infrastructure whose consequences we suffer to this day," said Bishop Nicolas Djombo, president of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo.

'Respect the will of the people'

Monday's vote, just the second since back-to-back wars that gripped the country from 1996 to 2003, was marred by deadly rebel attacks and rioting, and the long wait for results has filled with veiled threats of violence from the opposition and pledges of a crackdown from the ruling coalition.

Tshisekedi said on Saturday he rejected the early vote count, and warned Kabila and election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda to "respect the will of the Congolese people".

"If they don't, they risk committing suicidal acts. I call all our people to stay vigilant so that if needed they can execute the orders I will give them," he said.

The third-place candidate, ex-national assembly speaker Vital Kamerhe, threw his support behind Tshisekedi and said he also rejected the early figures.

The election commission was originally not expected to release any results until Tuesday, but said on Friday it had decided to release early returns to stanch a flood of rumours and false reports about the count.

But the partial results have had a distinct geographical skew toward Kabila strongholds.

More results

Sunday's results included 53% of the country's 64 000 polling centres. But they reflected 72% of poll stations in Katanga province, where Kabila is popular, and just 27% in Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi has greater support.

The commission said it would release more results on Monday.

Fears have risen of fresh unrest around Tuesday's announcement of the outcome, after a voting day marred by rebel attacks and riots and a campaign that saw deadly police crackdowns on opposition rallies and a series of clashes between rival partisans.

Authorities in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Tshisekedi stronghold Kasai Oriental, have imposed a 22:00 to 06:00 curfew.

In the restive southeastern city of Lubumbashi, Kabila's presidential guard has been deployed.

And in Kinshasa, the government has ordered cell phone provides to block text message services on their networks until further notice, after a flurry of election-related rumours swirled via SMS.

International officials close to the process have begun whispering that the election commission may not be able to meet Tuesday's deadline.

Tense climate

The tense climate has prompted more than 3 000 Kinshasa residents to make the four-kilometre river crossing to Brazzaville since Saturday, well above the average 400 travellers a day in each direction reflected in figures from June.

But Congo-Brazzaville Interior Minister Raymond Zephirin Mboulou said it was not a crisis situation.

"People are going to continue arriving (Monday) but there's no harm in it," he said.

A foreign diplomat in Brazzaville told AFP: "There are a few more people than usual, more people in the supermarkets, and the city's hotels are full, but it's not an exodus of people with bundles on their heads."