Supporters of Congolese President Joseph Kabila celebrate in Goma after… (Simon Maina, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa —
After a tense wait, the official election commission announced Friday that incumbent Joseph Kabila had been elected for another five-year term as the Democratic Republic of Congo's president, a result many fear will trigger violent protest.
Despite obvious flaws in the Nov. 28 vote and ensuing counting process, election observers and diplomats have taken a low-key approach for fear of unleashing an internal conflict. The country still is fragile after a five-year civil war that ended officially in 2003 and killed millions.
According to the election commission, Kabila won 49% compared with 32% for veteran politician Etienne Tshisekedi.
Tshisekedi, who insisted even before the vote that he was the country's rightful leader, rejected the results and once again declared himself the winner.
The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the African Union appealed for calm. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for electoral disputes to be resolved peacefully.
Voting had to be extended to three days in some areas, and the announcement of results was twice delayed.
Kabila has lost popularity in recent years, particularly in Kinshasa, the capital, because of his failure to improve the lives of Congo's population. Nearly two-thirds of the people live in dire poverty, even though the country has some of the richest mineral resources on Earth.
After 10 years of rule by Kabila, Congo ranked last among 187 nations in a U.N. index ranking development, health, education, life expectancy and other factors. But the resources of incumbency and a divided opposition helped him win five more years in office.
It has been difficult to judge how fair the vote was. The electoral commission has so far failed to release results from individual polling stations despite the demands of the opposition, Western diplomats and election observers.
The International Crisis Group think tank cited instances of vote rigging and said ballot counting lacked transparency.
"The Democratic Republic of Congo faces a political crisis that could plunge it back into major violence," it said. "The vote itself was plagued by chaotic management and reports of localized violence and rigging, including voter intimidation and pre-marked ballots.
"Counting has been as unruly as voting, and dangerously opaque. Election day flaws were bad enough; but perceptions that results are fiddled behind closed doors would spell disaster," it said.
With the results delayed by four days, diplomats and mediators strove to persuade Tshisekedi and his supporters to accept the outcome.
There was a heavy security presence on the streets Friday.
Police fired tear gas at Tshisekedi supporters Thursday, and other clashes were reported during the drawn-out wait for results. There were also confrontations before the election.
Congolese security forces have a history of shooting into crowds to quell disturbances, according to Human Rights Watch, which reported that at least 18 people had died in election violence.
Tshisekedi had warned the election commission Dec. 3 that it must respect the will of the people.
"If they don't, they risk suicidal acts. I call on all our people to remain vigilant so that if needed they can execute my orders," news agencies quoted him as saying.
Disputes will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court, which is stacked with Kabila appointees.
Fearing violence, many people in recent days have fled Kinshasa, a city of 10 million and an opposition stronghold.
A new voting system established this year favored Kabila, allowing him to retain power with less than 50% of the vote. That system is a departure from the practice in most emerging democracies in Africa, in which a winning candidate must get more than 50% or face a runoff.
Analysts say other African leaders may try to copy the system, which makes it easier for incumbents to cling to power.