Rumblings galore after surprise results in Congo polls

It has been roughly 36 hours since the DRC’s independent electoral commission CENI has announced provisional results of presidential and provincial legislative elections (the third ballot, national legislative elections, still not published). Coming in at around 3am local time, the announcement had already been delayed a couple of days – as has been the ballot that was postponed a last time from 23 to 30 December.

CENI has declared Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo – flag-bearer of the CACH coalition regrouping his UDPS party and Vital Kamerhe’s UNC – the winner with around 38.5% of the tallied votes. Runner up with 34.7% is Martin Fayulu Madidi, the candidate of the LAMUKA coalition that is backed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, Moise Katumbi, Mbusa Nyamwisi and other heavyweights. Emmanuel Shadary – formally an independent candidate – of the FCC coalition around Congo’s thus-far ruling party PPRD came in third with 23.8%. The next day, CENCO, the Congolese episcopal conference that had deployed the largest electoral mission with around 40,000 observers (sources critical of CENCO argued they were less), said official results would not match what they had compiled. Again a day later, speaking in front of the UN Security Council, CENCO said it was able to draw a 10% representative sample from 13 million observed ballots out of the 18 million total votes cast. On that basis, it has voiced concerns as to CENI’s provisional results but refrained from publishing its own results. While CACH and FCC representatives have stated they endorse the CENI results, LAMUKA disputes those and suggests its candidate had won with over 60%. This aligns roughly to what is heard on the diplomatic wires and in Kinshasa’s corridors – even that may not constitute proof of anything. While others have carried out much better and deeper analyses on the discrepancies and the plausibility of official provisional results (read Pierre Englebert here), there are a number of potential explanations for the controversy. Perhaps the most important one is that while CENI’s numbers might be based on the CLCR (the local compilation centres) and later transfer to CENI headquarters, CENCO probably relied on the PV (minutes) from the individual polling stations. In a bold move, CENCO has requested CENI in front of the Security Council to make all the minutes publicly available. Before, it had already addressed political stakeholders to recur to legal means in case of disagreement with CENI. While most Security Council members have been sticking to their usual storylines – P3 and friends calling for transparency, P2 and friends underlining Congolese sovereignty – Equatorial Guinea interestingly warned against a zero-sum game. Whether this was a call for Tshisekedi to involve the outgoing government into the new one or to approach Fayulu remains up to guessing.

While statements of key political stakeholders – Congolese and foreign – are floating through the news, the situation on the ground deserves attention too. Since the CENI announcement, anxiety and uncertainty have been the dominating feelings from Kinshasa all the way to Goma. There have been spontaneous outbreaks of joy and frustration (depending on what party headquarters you visit), various instances of violence have been recorded, for instance in Kikwit, Goma and Mbandaka. Yet, like on election day, there has been less violence than forecast by certain commentators – even though in parts of the country there have been problematic incidents. This is very much in tune with an extraordinary democratic spirit across the country, with Congolese streaming to the polls despite logistic and other difficulties and with a determination that ‘solid democracies’ such as in Europe or the US could benefit from as well. Even though technical difficulties were long foreseen and warned against, it also remains true that organising elections across DRC is in itself a obvious challenge. Over 70,000 polling stations. Yet, the provisional official turnout of below 50% shows that the ensemble to technical problems has prevented many from casting their ballot. After elections day – and potentially due to hundreds of pictures of official polling station minutes flooding social media channels – the government cut mobile internet and reduced messaging availability. This left literally all Congolese who do not have a foreign sim card (Brazzaville for Kinois, Rwanda/Uganda/Burundi along the eastern borders etc.) without access to communication until today. Rumour has it that both legislative national results might be announced today and internet services reestablished alongside. Nonetheless, speculation and misinformation have been legion online, and contestation almost more virulent than offline. In the ten days between polls and CENI’s announcement, Google and Facebook campaigns declaring Shadary the winner have appeared on news feeds. Forged opinion and exit polling from all three major competing coalitions have made the rounds on Twitter and on Whatsapp, sometimes wrongfully marked with newspaper or polling institute icons. Last in the row, even Human Right Watch’s eternal boss Kenneth Roth falsely tweeted and tried to use opinion polling as fake CENCO results.

The stakes are high. After Congo’s second democratic elections in 2006 (there has been one in the 1960 that is often forgotten) and those in 2011, it is only the 2018 poll that – with two years delay – can bring about a peaceful transition of power in a country still rattled by violent conflict as the presence of over 100 non-state armed groups in late 2017 indicates. And even though elections usually do not work as a step towards peace and democracy (they work much better as the outcome of a democratic process) the perseverance of Congolese voters clearly give them credit. Nonetheless, as International Crisis Group’s implicit worries a few days ago underline, the players that form what some call the “international community” are divided. As for the EU, France went on air first with a strong critique of the polls before back-paddling slightly at the Security Council. The EU as whole seems to struggle aligning ‘hardliners’ such as Belgium and others compelled to seek softer engagement with the DRC. Divisions in the Security Council are known and Congo debates are little different from those on Syria for instance, even if less openly hostile. The African Union and regional African bodies such as the ICGLR and SADC also do not seem speaking with one voice. All of this makes it extremely difficult to foster coherent international policy, all the more as MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, has been increasingly marginalised by both Kinshasa and New York. Inside Congo, the situation is similar. Congolese politics are a lot like musical chairs. Historian Jean Omasombo published two huge volumes with biographies of key Congolese politicians during the Second Congo war. It would be interesting to compare party allegiance back then with today and trace all the back and forth ever since. By late 2018, this had crystallised in three main poles of power, in addition to a number of aligned smaller actors and (at least nationally) marginal other presidential candidates. As underlined above, these three blocks are called CACH, FCC and LAMUKA. The latter faction backs the CENCO observation (since it implicitly puts their frontrunner in the lead) while CACH obviously backs the CENI results, as well as FCC (for whom a Fayulu presidency would be the worst case). But let’s go a step further: there are two things that will be very crucial in the coming days and weeks:

First, the presidential results will have to be finally validated. This includes CENI announcing final results and the Constitutional Court validating them. Fayulu’s side has already announced to challenge the provisional results in court, based on CENCO’s and their own observations. While obvious, visible and generalised fraud did not occur on election day itself (at least not in a way clear enough to attribute such to one party and identify it as a broader plan staged to rig the election), there are a number of issues that could become matter of contestation. Those include a faulty voter registry, the exclusion of foreign-living Congolese, the lack of materials in polling stations but most particularly the trimming of the single constituency for the presidential polls by excluding Beni, Beni town, Butembo town and Yumbi on the grounds of health and security threats.

Second, legislative elections will strongly play into the post-electoral dynamics. Provincial results have – provisionally – been published alongside the presidential ones and the composition of provincial assemblies will determine that of a new Senate, the Congo’s upper chamber. Legislative national results, for the National Assembly and lower chamber, are still pending. In both of them, the FCC coalition lined up many more candidates than CACH and LAMUKA taken together. Due to its logistic and financial capacities, it would not be surprising  if this results in a relative majority of the FCC in both chambers. In that case, there would be a classic cohabitation scenario as in other semi-presidential systems. But legislative elections and the fact they were held together with presidential polls do matter further on. As in 2006 and 2011, it is fairly possible that numerous irregularities (including those mentioned here) might be due to MP candidates rallying their fiefs and intervening locally through different non-violent and violent means. The past has shown that this can be the case for both opposition and majority politicians. Far over 10,000 candidates, respectively, have been competing for around 500 national assembly seats and roughly as many in the 26 provincial assemblies. Especially in the eastern parts, local (up to national) politics and armed mobilisation are neatly intertwined. Several past rebellions, for instance, have been linked to unsuccessful parliamentary candidates. Finally, and that is a particular feature of these elections, it will have to be seen how populations and political elites in the Grand Nord area, much of which was excluded from presidential polls, will react. Rumours have begun to circulate that this area, bordering Uganda, might witness even more intense armed mobilisation than it currently does. Moreover, given the thresholds introduced for parliamentary groups in the current electoral law, it remains unclear what will happen to MP to be elected in that area in March 2019 in case the National Assembly constitutes itself prior to the rescheduled partial ballot.

The bottom line is, both nationally and internationally, there is a lot of slumbering contestation. With CENCO legally barred from sharing what they believe is the result and CENI not having published disaggregated results, speculations and rumours might further dominate the scene. The de facto position and clout of a President Tshisekedi is extremely difficult to estimate, especially given the possibility of cohabitation as well as upcoming Constitutional Court challenges and the broader question of political, economic and security governance and the respective institutional and political set-ups. And despite a Congolese population that has impressively refuted the usual “Heart-of-Darkness”-stereotyping on Congo, there are question marks as to political and armed entrepreneurs – especially those who may not be happy with the provisional, or later on the final, results and the subsequent reality of government in the Congo. The Congolese often say on aura tout vu (‘we will have seen all’). It is an intriguing tense that includes both past, present and future.



One Response to “Rumblings galore after surprise results in Congo polls”
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  1. […] es casualidad que el resultado esté creando divisiones en el seno de organizaciones internacionales como la ONU y la UE sobre la mejor forma de actuar y la idoneidad […]

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