Warnings to DR Congo mount as election deadline looms

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Europe and Africa heaped pressure on DR Congo on Friday, urging it to respect voters’ wishes in key presidential elections as a deadline for unveiling the outcome loomed.

Expectations are mounting that electoral overseers will delay publication of provisional results due by Sunday — a move likely to add to tensions in a notoriously unstable country.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a historic moment toward a democratic transition,” the European Union said in Brussels.

It called on the authorities “to ensure the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people’s vote.”

A similar appeal was made by the African Union after it was briefed by the head of an 80-member AU election monitoring team.

“Respect of the election results is crucial,” AU Commission chief Faki Mahamat tweeted.

On Thursday, the United States called on the DRC to release “accurate” results and warned of sanctions against election violators.

“Those who undermine the democratic process, threaten the peace, security or stability of the DRC, or benefit from corruption may find themselves not welcome in the United States and cut off from the US financial system,” the State Department said.

The UN Security Council was to meet behind closed doors on Friday to discuss the DRC, diplomats in New York said.

– Vote fears –

The thrice-delayed elections last Sunday were called to choose a successor to President Joseph Kabila, at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country for nearly 18 years.

Polling day went ahead relatively peacefully by the DRC’s turbulent standards.

But in a country that has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, memories of electoral fraud and bogus claims of victory run deep.

Opposition campaigners fear the result may be rigged to favour Kabila’s preferred successor, hardline former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

He is facing two strong opposition contenders — Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive who entered politics, and Emmanuel Tshisekedi, head of the UDPS, the country’s oldest and largest opposition party

In the run-up to the election, Western powers repeatedly urged the count to be conducted accurately, transparently and expediently.

But on Thursday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said it had collected only about a fifth of the results.

CENI blamed massive logistical problems in a country the size of continental western Europe but with poor infrastructure.

It indicated that it may have to postpone publication of provisional results — due to be published by Sunday, followed by the definitive results on January 15 and the presidential inauguration three days later.

Within hours the DRC’s powerful Roman Catholic Church, which had deployed thousands of election observers, declared that it knew who had won from its own monitoring of the tally.

It called on the election panel “to publish the election results in keeping with truth and justice”.

A coalition of pro-Kabila parties on Friday angrily rebuffed the comments, which were made by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO).

CENCO had an “anarchic, irresponsible and biased attitude,” the Joint Front for Congo (FCC) said.

It accused CENCO’s spokesman, Father Donatien Nshole, of “seriously breaching” the constitution and electoral law by “illegally declaring voting trends” in favour of a given candidate.

– Transparency –

International concern has also been triggered after the authorities’ decision to cut internet access, block French public-service broadcaster Radio France Internationale and force its correspondent out of the country.

“These efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when the results are announced,” the United Nations Human Rights office warned on Friday.

The DRC suffered two fully-fledged wars between 1996 and 2003 that claimed millions of lives through bloodshed, fighting, starvation and disease.

Bloody clashes also marred elections in 2006 and 2011.

The election was delayed several times as Kabila held on to power rather than stepping down at the end of 2016.

Authorities crushed protests and voting was further postponed in areas hit by violence.