DRC's Kabila on the brink of new presidential term

President Joseph Kabila is poised to claim a new five-year term on Thursday when officials announce the winner of Democratic Republic of Congo’s elections, a result the opposition is likely to contest both in court and on the street.

Leading a pack of 11 candidates with 49% of valid votes and just over one-tenth of polling centres uncounted, Kabila, in power since 2001, looks likely to reap the benefits of January constitutional changes that scrapped two-round presidential elections for a single-round system.

His nearest rival, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was on 33% when the last figures were released late on Tuesday.

Tshisekedi rejected partial results showing Kabila in the lead, and his Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) has called for the election commission to release results polling centre by polling centre. International observers have have asked for greater transparency.

The conflict-prone country has been on edge as it awaits the outcome of the November 28 polls.

The announcement, originally scheduled for Tuesday but postponed 48 hours by election officials, has created trepidation after a campaign marred by street fights between rival partisans and deadly police crackdowns on opposition supporters.

The election commission said late on Wednesday the count was more than 90% complete and that it expected to have finished in “a few hours”.

‘Respect the will of the Congolese’
Candidates have two days to contest the outcome at the Supreme Court, which Tshisekedi is likely to do.

But with the court seen as closely aligned to Kabila—he expanded it from seven to 27 judges at the start of the campaign—fear is high that the battle will spill into the streets.

Tshisekedi has made veiled threats of violence, warning 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 on Saturday.

In Kinshasa, police patrols have been out in force and about 20 000 soldiers are on stand-by at military bases.

Police this week used tear gas to disperse potential opposition protests before they could start, chasing away Tshisekedi supporters armed with rocks and petrol bombs before they could reach critical mass.

Elsewhere, the normally bustling city of 10-million people has been unusually quiet.

Diaspora turns violent
Other potential flashpoints include Katanga province, a Kabila stronghold that was rocked by deadly rebel attacks on election day, and Kasai Occidental and Kasai Oriental, provinces where Tshisekedi has strong support.

Tensions have also spilled over into the Congolese diaspora.

Anti-Kabila protests by Congolese expatriates have turned violent in Brussels, London, Paris, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The elections are just the second since back-to-back wars from 1996 to 2003 in a country ranked last on the UN’s development index despite a wealth of cobalt, copper, diamonds and gold.

Human Rights Watch said at least 18 civilians were killed in election-related violence from November 26 to 28, mostly shot dead by Kabila’s presidential guard as it put down a Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa.

Election officials, running chronically behind schedule, had to bring in more than 80 aircraft to get ballots distributed across a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe.
Poor infrastructure has made counting equally slow.

The winner is due to be sworn in on December 20. Provisional parliamentary results are due in mid-January.—AFP

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