Trouble looms in DRC as catholic church speaks on vote

As the electoral commission continues to delay official announcement of Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election results, chances of a peaceful ending are becoming slim, with opposition saying the delay could be used to manipulate vote totals and ensure the final announcement favours President Joseph Kabila’s handpicked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary. The election is meant to usher in Congo’s first democratic transfer of power.

The poll which was already delayed by two years, was postponed by a further week to allow more time to overcome logistical challenges in the country. However, those are the same challenges the electoral commission blames for possible delay in publishing provisional results earlier scheduled for Sunday, January 6.

In what Olivier Kamitatu, a spokesperson for opposition candidates, called part of a “plan to obscure the truth of the ballot box”, the DRC government had earlier cut internet and SMS services, alleging that some people have “indoctrinated the public with false numbers” about the presidential election.

The Church weighs in
The Catholic church, one of Congo’s most trusted institutions which represents about 40 percent of the country’s 80 million population, may be one of the ‘people’ the government is accusing of peddling false numbers.

The Church through its bishops conference, known as CENCO, said on Thursday that based on tallies from more than 40,000 observers deployed for the December 30 poll, there was a clear winner. The Church then urged the electoral commission to publish accurate results. Although the church did not mention the candidate who won, the ruling coalition, the Common Front for Congo (FCC) has condemned the Catholic Church’s stance.

FCC spokesman, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told a press conference in the DRC capital Kinshasa that the church by its pronouncements was sowing seeds of chaos.

“The Common Front for the Congo firmly deplores, denounces and condemns the partisan, irresponsible and anarchic attitude of the CENCO,” Karubi said.

Karubi had earlier told AFP that the “false numbers” being circulated “has laid the groundwork for a popular uprising”.

The New York Times reports that a senior Western official and a presidential adviser, who spoke to church officials on condition of anonymity, Friday, said that opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, 62, had led government favourite Shadary by nearly 30 points.

Karubi said the church’s action was against constitutional and electoral laws and could start a “popular revolt” that the church would be responsible for. A revolt could further destabilise DRC’s volatile eastern provinces, where wars have resulted in millions of deaths, most from hunger and disease, and where dozens of militia are still active.

Kabila’s way or No way
President Kabila’s second electoral mandate expired in 2016 but he wanted to stay on and only reluctantly called new elections under pressure from regional powers. Although the constitution stopped him from running for office again, critics say he plans to retain his influence by ensuring his handpicked candidate wins.

The opposition and election observers say the election was marred by serious irregularities. But the government says it was fair and went smoothly.

All parties in the election have insisted that their candidates were on course to win. There are also widespread concerns that Kabila is unlikely to accept a winner other than his candidate, raising fears of chaos once the electoral commission announces results.

In anticipation of how things might end, United States President Donald Trump has notified Congress in a letter that he had sent around 80 troops to Gabon, about 1,200 kilometers from DRC in case the election ends in violent protests that threaten security to US citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities in the country.