In a country that has never known a peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, Thursday’s announcement that an opposition candidate had won the December race to replace President Joseph Kabila was a historic first.
But the legitimacy of Tshisekedi’s victory was immediately called into question, with his opposition rival Martin Fayulu, who came a close second, dismissing the result out of hand as an “electoral coup”.
And the powerful Catholic Church also said the outcome of the troubled December 30 vote did not tally with data its own observers collected, raising serious questions about the credibility of figures released by the CENI election commission.
The pre-dawn announcement brought thousands of Tshisekedi supporters onto the streets in celebration, while others who had backed Fayulu came out to protest, with five killed in the resulting clashes with police.
“These results have nothing to do with the truth at the ballot box,” Fayulu told Radio France International.
At stake is political stewardship of this notoriously unstable central African nation which has a population of some 80 million and covers an area the size of western Europe.
According to the provisional results, Tshisekedi was declared the winner with 38.57 percent, just ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.
Any disputes over the result must be lodged within the next nine days at the Constitutional Court, which will play a decisive role in how such issues are resolved.
– Protests turn deadly –
Later Friday, CENI was expected to announce the result of the legislative elections which took place on the same day as the presidential poll, with more than 15,000 candidates in the running.
The result will determine who will hold a majority in the 500-seat parliament for the next five years.
The outgoing National Assembly, which took power in 2011, is currently dominated by Kabila supporters who, even ahead of the announcement, were already claiming to have won a majority.
The last two elections in 2006 and 2011, both of which were won by Kabila, were marred by bloodshed, and many fear a repeat of the violence if the result lacks credibility.
Also Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to discuss the situation in DR Congo
In Kinshasa, the news sparked wild celebrations among supporters who converged on the headquarters of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), singing and dancing at his surprise victory.
Speaking to his followers, Tshisekedi — who has never held high office or even a managerial role — pledged to work closely with Kabila, describing him as “a partner for democratic change”.
But elsewhere the mood was bitter, with angry protests turning deadly in the western city of Kikwit, a Fayulu stronghold, as police sought to break up crowds of demonstrators.
Five civilians died in the unrest, police said on Friday, updating an earlier toll of four dead and denying that two police officers were among the dead.
– Doubts of the faithful –
In Kinshasa, the Catholic Church openly disputed the election result, saying it “does not correspond with the data collected by our observer mission from polling stations and counting centres.”
The Church has long been pressing for the departure of Kabila, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2001, well beyond the limit of his final term in December 2016.
Analysts said the Church’s perspective would not go unnoticed.
“The Catholic Church’s congregation comprises about half the population and is arguably DRC’s most influential organisation,” said Robert Besseling, executive director of risk consultancy EXX Africa.
“CENCO’s word on the election results will therefore be heeded by many Congolese, who suspect the vote remains rigged.”
Abroad, the mood was watchful, marked by a noticeable lack of congratulations for Tshisekedi.
Many have eyed the developments in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country with concern, with the United Nations leading calls to avoid violence.
France dismissed Tshisekedi’s victory as “not consistent” with the actual results, while the US State Department demanded “clarification” and urged “all stakeholders to remain calm”, echoing calls by the European Union and the African Union.
The country has been increasingly on edge over the long-delayed vote while Kabila’s hold on power had sparked a political crisis and protests that were bloodily repressed.
Analyst Besseling said the outgoing president had gambled on a power-sharing deal with Tshisekedi, who would now owe “his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the electoral commission”.