Instability risk high in DRC after vote result: analysts

Felix Tshisekedi (File: AFP)
Felix Tshisekedi (File: AFP)

Democratic Republic of Congo has finally delivered the result of its much-delayed presidential vote, but the risk of an explosion of violence in this notoriously unstable nation remains high, analysts say.

After an election that went ahead relatively peacefully, the outcome marks the first time in DRC's history since independence in 1960 that power will change hands through an electoral process.

But bitterness among supporters of runner-up Martin Fayulu and speculation about a deal between the provisional winner Felix Tshisekedi and outgoing President Joseph Kabila will raise questions of legitimacy, fuelling volatility, commentators said.

Hours after DRC's election board declared Tshisekedi victor of the December 30 poll, two police and two civilians were killed in clashes in the western city of Kikwit - a stronghold of Fayulu, who has rejected the result.

"The electoral victory of opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi is highly surprising, but the decision makes sense in the context of DRC's political dynamics," said Robert Besseling of EXX Intelligence, a risk consultancy on Africa.

"Kabila will be able to influence Tshisekedi, who now owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila's control of the electoral commission," he said in an email.

The influential Catholic Church notably said the result "does not correspond" with the data collected from polling stations and counting centres by its 40 000 election monitors, although it did not identify the person who it believes has won.

France too said Tshisekedi's win was "not consistent with the true results".

'38%? No chance'

The few opinion polls that had been conducted in the vast country ahead of the election had Fayulu, a former oil executive backed by two political heavyweights, as clear favourite.

But election chief Corneille Nangaa declared Tshisekedi the winner with 38.57% of the vote, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8%.

The candidate backed by Kabila, hardline former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, came in a distant third with just 23.8%.

Pierre Englebert of the African Arguments newsletter said analysis of survey data "suggests that the probability Tshisekedi could have scored 38% in a free election is less than 0.0000."

"There is a 95% chance his real numbers would be somewhere between 21.3% and 25%," he said.

'Risk of unrest'

Adeline VanHoutte, a research analyst for central and West Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the announcement "comes with great risk of unrest".

The days-long delay in announcing the preliminary results boosted suspicions that the regime "was gaining time to negotiate a backroom deal" with Tshiskedi, she said.

"This is because a Tshisekedi presidency would be the least bad alternative to a Shadary victory for the regime as it would put a veil of legitimacy on the electoral process and would be more manageable than a Fayulu presidency," she said.

VanHoutte and Besseling agreed that Tshisekedi would be dependent on Kabila, at least initially.

On one side, Kabila "(is seeking) immunity from prosecution and protection for his family's substantial business interests," said Besseling.

On the other, Tshisekedi is vulnerable to a legal challenge over the validity of his Belgian diploma, which is alleged to be fake - holding a diploma is a requirement for anyone running as a presidential candidate in DRC.

Kabila is stepping down after 18 years at the helm of one of Africa's most troubled countries.

He should have stepped down at the end of 2016 at the end of his two-term limit but stayed on as a self-declared caretaker - a move that sparked demonstrations which were brutally crushed by the security forces.

Bloody clashes also marred elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila.

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