The coming days will prove critical for the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo), as the country navigates the post-electoral process of a hotly contested presidential race. The United States, European Union, United Nations, African Union, and Southern African Development Community (SADC) should press for full transparency and a climate of non-violence during the current period of results review – and be prepared to enact pressures in the form of sanctions designations in the event that these conditions are not met.
On December 30, citizens in Congo went to the polls for a historic electoral cycle, including presidential, legislative, and local contests. The electoral process as a whole has been dominated by lack of transparency, barriers to opposition participation, and allegations of corruption. On Election Day itself, observers, including the Catholic Church, reported widespread irregularities and technical failures at polling areas. Internet and SMS services were suspended directly after Election Day, and remain restricted.
On January 10, the Independent National Electoral Commission (known by its French acronym, CENI) released provisional results declaring opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi as the victor, with 38.5% of votes. The CENI stated that opposition candidate Martin Fayulu obtained 34.7% of the votes, while Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the candidate backed by current President Joseph Kabila’s regime, obtained 23.8% of the votes.
In a statement on January 10, the Comité Permanent de la Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO), stated that the CENI’s provisional results are not consistent with the results recorded by their election observers. CENCO organized the largest citizen observer mission on Election Day, claiming to have deployed approximately 40,000 observers nationwide. Candidate Martin Fayulu has also issued statements strongly contesting the CENI’s results, going as far as to characterize the provisional vote tally as an attempted coup.
According to Congolese electoral law, the Constitutional Court must validate the CENI’s provisional results. Candidates also have the right to officially contest the CENI’s provisional results with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court has undergone a series of reforms in recent months, and some analysts express concerns that the institution is biased in favor of the current regime.
On January 11, the United Nations Security Council held a hearing regarding the evolving situation in Congo. During the briefing, CENI President Corneille Nangaa stated that failure to accept the CENI’s provisional results would result in annulation of the entire process, and require the organization of a new election, according to an underdetermined schedule, potentially allowing for Kabila to stay in power further beyond the end of his mandate.
International actors, including the U.S. Department of State and members of Congress, as well as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian released statements expressing concern about reported electoral irregularities and calling for full transparency during this period of review. The European Union issued a statement highlighting that, despite noted irregularities on Election Day, the majority of observers provided electors with the opportunity to cast a ballot for their candidate of choice and called upon the CENI to release detailed polling data.
African Union Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat released a statement taking note of the CENI’s provisional results and calling on all stakeholders to act within Congo’s legal framework in the event of results contestation. SADC released a joint statement echoing the AU chair’s calls for all actors to exercise calm and act within existing legal frameworks.
The following actions are critical to ensuring the transparency and credibility of the election results:
- The CENI should release results of the December 30 vote disaggregated by polling station.
- CENCO should release its own disaggregated data by polling station
- The CENI should work with civil society observer groups to compare specific polling station results and identify points of discrepancy
- The Congolese government should immediately restore internet and SMS access nationwide
- The United States, European Union, African Union, United Nations, and SADC should continue to press for full transparency of the CENI’s vote tabulation process as well as full independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Court
- In the event that both the CENI and CENCO release their data and significant discrepancies in results are discovered – indicating fraud – the United States, European Union, African Union, United Nations, and SADC should call for the Congolese government to re-examine its tabulations and investigate allegations of fraud.
- In the event that the Congolese government does not facilitate full transparency of the result tabulation and validation process and a climate of non-violence during this critical time, the United States, European Union, African Union, United Nations, and SADC should be prepared to respond with additional sanctions designations against officials most responsible for undermining the democratic process.
The coming days will prove critical. The credibility of the current electoral process will set the tone for the government that follows – and the likelihood for implementation of much-needed structural reforms to improve transparency and accountability writ large. The international community should stand by Congolese citizens both during this post-electoral period and beyond, as they demand respect for their constitution, basic human rights, and a democratic, accountable system of government.
Photo: MONUSCO/John Bopengo