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As criticism of election proliferates, time runs out for opposition

Joseph Kabila was proclaimed winner of the presidential elections on Friday, obtaining 49% of the votes. Etienne Tshisekedi was a distant second, with 32%.

As expected, many Congolese have rejected the results, setting tyres on fire in Kinshasa and launching isolated protests around the country. Tshisekedi has now announced a large opposition demonstration in Kinshasa and other cities for Tuesday, while the opposition UNC party will hold a protest today in Bukavu, focusing on both the election results and the killing of two students over the weekend.

It is not only some Congolese who find the results hard to believe – foreign observers have also expressed skepticism. The Atlanta-based Carter Center published a brief report on Saturday, saying the results “lack credibility.” The European Union will be publishing a report today or tomorrow, reportedly with very similar conclusions.

What are the main problems with the vote?

Perhaps the most obvious flaw is the loss of ballots of between 3,000 and 4,000 polling stations around the country, including 2,000 from Kinshasa and all the results from the territory of Kiri in Bandundu. In the case of the lost Kinshasa votes, some foreign observers believe that these are the same polling stations that Ngoy Mulunda had wanted to invalidate earlier in the week, but was forced to set aside after protests from observers.

Then there are the suspicious turnout figures. In several districts, turnout was almost 100%, rates the Carter Center finds “impossibly high.” This was the case in several territories of northern Katanga, Joseph Kabila’s home turf (or, to be more precise, that of his father). The problem was not just the high turnout, but the fact that it coincided with almost 100% support for Kabila. In the territory of Malemba Nkulu, for example, turnout was 99,46%, with not a single one of the 266,866 votes going to anyone but the incumbent. In Kabongo territory, Kabila also received a perfect score (turnout was 91%), while in Manono, where Kabila received 99,98% of the vote, turnout was 100,14%.

While Tshisekedi received very high scores in the Kasais, as well, turnout there was much lower, around 50-60%. The national turnout was 58 percent.

Some observers have told me that one way of detecting suspicious turnout figures is to calculate how many voters cast their ballots in a polling station on election day, then multiplying by the number of minutes it takes them on average to cast a vote, taking into account that several people can vote at the same time. If the total is over 20 hours, it is likely that there was something wrong with polling in that station.

Another figure that raised eyebrows were registration numbers. In some rural parts of northern Katanga, the growth in registered voters since 2006 is more than double the national growth rates. In Manono, for example, the number of voters grew by 52% in five years, while in four other Katangan territories growth was over 38% in the same period. The national increase in voters between the two elections was 26%.

Finally, the process was flawed. Ballots were seen transported by private means – in several cases even by candidates – and in some cases ballot bags were opened and altered in violation of official procedures. The Carter Center suggested that in 15% of the compilation centers, security personnel could have influenced compilation; they also pointed out that some election official obstructed access for observers, including in the National Results Center in Kinshasa. In one flagrant case in the capital, the compilation center was closed and when it re-opened a large number of ballots had gone missing.

I should emphasize that none of the observers I have spoken with has weighed in on what he or she thinks the real results were. Tshisekedi would have to win 1,5 million votes and Kabila lose the same number for the final results to change.

What next? The opposition has until tomorrow to contest the results officially, or the Supreme Court may just confirm Kabila as the winner (at the moment of writing, I don’t think the UDPS had done so). The opposition has little faith in the court, as in the run-up to elections a large number of new judges were appointed,  many of whom reportedly favorable to Kabila. If a suit is filed by tomorrow, the Supreme Court only has until Saturday to consider it before it has to announce a winner. That amount of time is clearly insufficient given the complexity of the results.

Time is hence of the essence. Several solutions have been bandied about in diplomatic circles, some of which involve the creation of an independent commission to audit the results and propose a solution. Who should be a member of the commission and to whom should it report? Not clear – the United Nations is very unlikely to take on this kind of role, given the politics in the Security Council. The southern African body SADC, which sent the largest observation mission, is seen by the opposition as pro-Kabila, and South African President Zuma has approved of the official tallies. Others have suggested that a mediator or special envoy should be appointed. However, Kofi Annan has reportedly already turned down an offer – other names that have come up are John Kufuor and Alpha Oumar Konare.

What could a possible solution look like to electoral disputes? Here, again, different solutions are being mulled over. The official line, taken by many diplomats, is that legal avenues should be pursued – i.e. the Supreme Court. However, as mentioned, the opposition does not find this credible. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon added that mediation efforts should also be considered, notably by the National Mediation Commission. But many members of this commission, named shortly before the elections, are also considered to be close to the presidency.

Some suggest that there only needs to be a re-tally of the results put together at the 169 compilation centers (CLCR). That, however, would not be able to come to grips with the kind of fraud listed above. Others have suggested a re-vote in selected areas with reported irregularities, a solution that would not address problems of the voter register, but could address many of the other irregularities. Another solution that I have heard of would be to hold another presidential vote, just between Kabila and Tshisekedi – this run-off ballot, however, would contravene the electoral law, which states that the presidential ballot is a one-round, plurality-wins vote.

The longer it takes to decide on a way forward, the more likely it is that the Supreme Court will declare Joseph Kabila winner and Tshisekedi’s supporters will take their frustrations to the streets.

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