DRC: Tension ahead of election results

Kinshasa, 18 August 2006 (IRIN) - Tensions are rising in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ahead of an expected announcement this weekend by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) of preliminary election results, according to officials.

Three local television stations were shut down on Thursday for 24 hours by order of the Congolese High Authority on Media. "The stations were broadcasting shocking images to incite hate and rebellion," Modeste Mutinga, chairman of the media authority, said when announcing the closures.

The government owns one of the stations, another is a religious station supporting the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, and the third is owned by presidential candidate and current Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

Since 30 July, when Congo held its first democratic elections in more than 40 years, the country has been rife with disinformation, rumour and speculation, the spokesperson for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), Kemal Saiki, said on Wednesday.

"MONUC has asked voters and candidates to have confidence in the CEI, to end the culture of rumour and refrain from all acts and declarations that could incite violence," he said.

One issue fanning tensions is contradictory reports in local and international media of whether or not Kabila would win more than 50 percent of the vote; thus avoiding a second run-off election with Bemba, who appears to be his leading rival.

Without a run-off, observers fear a winner-takes-all election that could increase the chances of losers resorting to violence.

"I don't think there will be generalised violence," Jean-Marie Labila, a political analyst at the University of Kinshasa, said on Thursday, "[but] there may well be areas that react if Kabila wins the first round."

Civic leaders say politicians are using uncertain results to divide the country. Preliminary results published by the electoral commission and numerous reports in the local and international media suggest a new split in the country's political landscape, with strong support for Kabila in the east and for Bemba in parts of the west, particularly in Kinshasa.

"We condemn the separation of the country into east and west, which is being fabricated by certain political actors who want to by-pass the true results," said Cheik Adalah Mangal, a representative of the Muslim community, speaking for an interdenominational group of religious leaders.

Questions over the legitimacy of the election are also fuelling tensions. At least 21 of the 33 presidential candidates have said they would not recognise the results unless voting is repeated.

Local and international observers have called the voting free and fair although they have noted numerous problems. Saiki said allegations kept surfacing from around the country but he also said that was expected.

"Elections in this country involved over 25 million voters, and over 300,000 electoral staff, with 50,000 centres all over a country the size of Western Europe," he said. "There were huge logistical problems due to lack of infrastructure. Of course there will be some errors due to incompetence and transport problems."

He added that the Congolese electoral law had mechanisms in place in the event of disputes.

Azarias Ruberwa, one of four vice-presidents in the transitional government and a former leader of the one-time rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) movement, told IRIN on 4 July he would not accept the results.

"I don't see why the Congolese population will accept being led by someone who has cheated them," he said. "We have fought too hard for democracy."

However, Ruberwa, a Congolese Tutsi, said he would not resume armed conflict in the country. He also denied any association with the dissident Tutsi army general and former RCD rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, whose troops have been fighting the army in the east of the country.

Labila said ethnic Tutsis were among the groups that risked being excluded from the political configuration in the next government. "That is why they are using violence," Labila said.

Nkunda launched a military and political movement on 25 July called the National Congress for the People's Defense, saying he was protecting the rights of the minority Tutsi community.

On 5 August, soldiers from the 83rd Brigade, which includes many Tutsi officers loyal to Nkunda, fought soldiers from the 9th Brigade in the town of Sake, 30 kilometres east of Goma, and the provincial capital of North Kivu. Two civilians were killed and 13 others wounded. Thousands of civilians fled Sake and have sought refuge in neighbouring towns.

[Countdown in Congo]


Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Other,


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