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As election results approach, a long road lies ahead

Kinshasa was in a weird mood this evening, as parts of town celebrated, thinking Tshisekedi had won the polls. Elsewhere, people sulked, thinking that Kabila had been declared victor. But as this went to cyber-press, the electoral commission had just pushed back the final announcement to Friday. According to one source close to the election commission, the vice-president from the political opposition was blocking the announcement, refusing to sign off on the final figures until the commissioner had agreed to publish disaggregated results by polling station at the same time. According to the election commissioner, they needed « to cross-check results received from across the country. »

But it would be good at this time to remember that this announcement is not the end of the process. Even if Kabila is declared victor, as is expected, the opposition will contest the results, both in the streets and in courts. If this scenario plays out, two factors will be key: how many people Tshisekedi can mobilize in the streets, and how clear it is that the elections were rigged.

For the former, there is no doubt that Kinshasa would seethe with anger if Kabila was declared victor. But thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of soldiers and policemen are deployed in the streets, and the game would almost certainly be to disperse any crowd that was trying to gather, with rubber bullets, tear gas and even live ammunition. It is not clear how long the opposition could hold out and how many casualties the regime would be able to inflict before one side backed down.

As for the proof of rigging: this is a crucial point, and one I think has not been muddled. We know that there have been widespread irregularities and rigging, probably amounting to hundreds or even thousands of incidents. Some minor, others large. What has not yet been put in the public domain is the exact scale of this fraud. Kabila now leads by over 2 million votes; one would imagine that that kind of lead should be relatively easy to detect. But it will take time to bring this evidence to bear.

The best indicator we have of massive fraud will the the proces verbaux, the minutes from each individual polling station. Witnesses from political parties receive a signed copy of these minutes after the ballots are counted in front of them. So if political parties have enough of these PVs, and they don’t match up with those provided by the government, they will be able to prove fraud. Observers like the Catholic church, or the Carter Center, can write down the results but don’t have signed copies.

But apparently none of the political parties had complete coverage of the country (I don’t know the exact coverage), nor did the Catholic church and NGOs. So they will be able to prove fraud in certain areas, but perhaps not for the whole country – or, at least, it is not clear. In some areas like Katanga, where some have accused the government of stuffing ballots and registering children, there was poor coverage, and in other areas witnesses were chased out of polling stations.

In addition, it is always possible that fictitious polling stations will send in results, where there could be no observers or witnesses because they don’t exist. Observers and witnesses would have to go through the final list of polling stations and their results to see which ones did not exist in a particular town or area; after all, when the initial list of stations was released, many observers complained that there were numerous stations that didn’t exist or were at the wrong address.

All of this will take time. It may be, of course, that there is no doubt, that the gap between the two candidates is too large, or that there are so much proven fraud that the election must be thrown out.

But it is also possible that we never get an exact real count of the vote, and – if the election is close – that doubts will remain about the possible winner. This would be the worst scenario, as it would leave is in legal and political limbo. But some actors seem to be preparing for exactly this. There is talk of mediators at the UN – Kofi Annan was reportedly asked to come to help « mediate, » but he said he would not be able to make it (because he was too busy or didn’t want to be involved in such a messy process?). Others suggest that the South Africans have been positioning themselves for this kind of « mediation ». The reason for the inverted commas is that, as of now, there is nothing to mediate, we still believe that we will find out who won the polls.

But what if we don’t? I know this is anathema to many Congolese, who firmly believe that their candidate won. I also have my guesses and inclinations (it’s better not to air them here), but proof may be harder to come by that we think and hope.

In any case, there will also be a race against time. The electoral calendar says the Supreme Court will confirm the final results on December 17, which only leaves eight days for the defeated party to sue in court.

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