Losing Congo presidential candidate to challenge election result

Martin Fayulu asserted Friday he won 61 per cent of the country's presidential vote, citing Catholic Church election observers, and vowed to file a court challenge against the Congolese election commission's provisional results.

Martin Fayulu says he won 61% of vote, citing Catholic Church election observers

Opposition candidate Martin Fayulu vowed Friday to launch a court challenge against provisional election results that saw Felix Tshisekedi earn a surprise victory. (Luis Tato/AFP/Getty Images)

Congo opposition candidate Martin Fayulu said Friday he won 61 per cent of the country's presidential vote, citing Catholic Church election observers, and vowed to file a court challenge against the Congolese election commission's provisional results.

Fayulu spoke to hundreds of supporters who gathered in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, to denounce what they called "the people's stolen victory."

A businessman and vocal campaigner against Congo's widespread corruption,​ Fayulu accused outgoing President Joseph Kabila of making a backroom deal with the declared winner, opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi.

Also Friday, the influential Catholic Church, an authority many Congolese find trustworthy, said it asked the UN Security Council to call on the election commission to release detailed polling and counting station data. The Church had previously said its 40,000 election observers found another candidate, not Tshisekedi, had won in the Dec. 30 vote.

"This might dispel doubts among the population as to the outcome and may therefore set minds at rest," Marcel Utembi, president of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, said during a videoconference in Kinshasa.

Despite the criticism, the head of the election commission said Friday that Congo was on the brink of "its first peaceful, civilized handover of power" since independence 60 years ago.

Comeille Nangaa Yobeluo told the Security Council on Friday that the commission is waiting for final reports on the presidential election. The commission's provisional results, released Thursday, declared Tshisekedi won with 38 per cent of the vote, while Fayulu received 34 per cent.

He said the Catholic Church challenged the outcome of the presidential elections held in 2006 and 2011 and it was "no surprise" the church was challenging new provisional results.

Court challenge coming

An official with Fayulu's opposition coalition said Tshisekedi received just 18 per cent of the vote, according to the church's findings.

Fayulu said he will release the results of the Catholic Church and its vote observers province by province. He told the crowd in Kinshasa that his opposition coalition will release its own results as well.

Fayulu urged that Congo's electoral commission publish detailed results, polling station by polling station, and said he would file his court challenge on Saturday morning. He blew kisses to the crowd.

Felix Tshisekedi, who was believed to be the favourite candidate of outgoing Congolese President Joseph Kabila, was declared he winner of Congo's Dec. 30 election. (Luis Tato/AFP/Getty Images)

"Those who have been silly enough to publish false results, we will challenge them," he said.

"Change cannot be negotiated behind closed doors and power only comes from the ballot, there is no other way," said Fayulu supporter Jean Otaba, 28. "You can see there is no massive celebration despite the announcement. That's because it is not the truth."

Congolese face the extraordinary situation of an election allegedly rigged in favour of the opposition after Kabila's preferred candidate, ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, did poorly in the polls. Fayulu's coalition said Shadary received just 18 per cent of the vote.

Some Fayulu supporters sang, "if you don't proclaim Fayulu, we will kill each other."

Congo has been largely calm since results were announced early Thursday, but some observers warn that a challenge to the results could bring unrest. Internet service in Congo, cut off the day after the Dec. 30 vote, has not yet been restored.

Careful statements by the international community, including African regional blocs, have not congratulated Tshisekedi, merely taking note of official results and urging for peace and stability in a country. The foreign ministers of France, Belgium and Britain raised concerns about the vote's outcome, while the United States said "we await clarification of questions which have been raised regarding the electoral count."

Surprise Tshisekedi victory

Tshisekedi had not been widely considered the leading candidate. Long in the shadow of his father, the late opposition leader É​tienne Tshisekedi, he startled Congo last year by breaking away from the opposition's unity candidate, Fayulu, to stand on his own.

Fayulu, a former Exxon manager and Kinshasa lawmaker, was a vocal activist during the turbulent delay in Congo's election, insisting it was time for Kabila to go. Many feared the president would find a way to stay in office and protect his vast assets obtained from Congo's staggering mineral wealth.

Fayulu was backed by two popular opposition leaders barred by the government from running.

The difference between Tshisekedi and Fayulu in official results was some 684,000 votes. Some observers said the one million voters who were barred at the last minute, with the electoral commission blaming a deadly Ebola virus outbreak, could have made the difference. Elsewhere, election observers reported numerous problems including malfunctioning voting machines and polling stations that opened hours late.

Several Congo analysts said it appeared Kabila made a quiet agreement with Tshisekedi, saying Fayulu would have posed more of a threat to his interests and allies and that Tshisekedi was more malleable.

Tshisekedi took over as head of Congo's most prominent opposition party in early 2018, a year after his father's death.