World

Congo opposition, ruling coalition both claim to have won chaotic election

Congo's opposition says it expected one of its candidates to win the presidential election based on early vote tallies, but the ruling coalition says it was confident its candidate had won the chaotic contest.

1st results expected Tuesday after many unable to vote due to Ebola, conflict and logistics problems

Opposition presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi casts his ballot in Kinshasa, Congo on Sunday. Tshisekedi's campaign manager said early ballot counting showed opposition parties were leading in the race. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

Congo's opposition said on Monday it expected one of its candidates to win the presidential election based on early vote tallies, but the ruling coalition said it was confident its candidate had won the chaotic contest.

The competing claims followed a disorderly election day on Sunday in which many Congolese were unable to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, conflict and logistical problems.

After unofficial tallies started to circulate on social media on Monday, mobile internet connections in the capital Kinshasa and other cities slowed down or cut out entirely, residents said, in a possible move by authorities to stop the information from circulating.

Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Authorities have cut the internet in the past, saying they sought to stop rumours from spreading during protests.

The vote is meant to choose a successor to outgoing President Joseph Kabila after 18 years in power and could lead to the vast central African country's first ever democratic transition.

Any disputed outcome could lead to a repeat of the violence that followed the 2006 and 2011 elections and a wider security breakdown, particularly along Congo's borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, where dozens of armed militia are active.

Competing claims

Vital Kamerhe, the campaign manager to opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi, said early counting showed Tshisekedi and the other main opposition candidate Martin Fayulu neck-and-neck in the lead, both with over 40 per cent of the vote.

He said the ruling coalition candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is backed by Kabila, had only about 13 per cent, although a significant part of the vote remained to be tabulated.

The election is a first-past-the-post system with no run-off.

Ruling party presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary casts his vote on Sunday in Kinshasa, Congo. 'For us, victory is certain,' an official with Shadary's campaign said following the vote. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

Opposition officials complained of widespread irregularities, including several instances of what they said was outright fraud in Shadary's favour.

According to a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, nearly half of polling places opened late, 30 per cent encountered problems due to malfunctioning voting machines or absent voter rolls, and 10 to 15 per cent were located in prohibited zones like police posts or private residences.

Nehemie Mwilanya, Kabila's chief of staff and a member of Shadary's campaign, told a news conference on Monday morning that he was confident Shadary had won, although he did not provide specific figures.

"For us, victory is certain," Mwilanya said.​

Fayulu's camp has not yet provided specific numbers but Fayulu said late on Sunday that Shadary's camp was "dreaming" if it thought it was going to win.

Fraud allegations

The most recent opinion poll before the election, released by New York University's Congo Research Group on Friday, showed Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil manager, leading the race on 47 per cent.

Tshisekedi had 24 per cent and Shadary 19 per cent.

The first partial results are expected from the national electoral commission (CENI) on Tuesday.

Election day was mostly peaceful despite several violent incidents, including an altercation at a polling place in eastern Congo in which at least three people were killed.

More than 1.2 million Congolese were also unable to vote in three opposition strongholds, where the CENI canceled the poll last week, citing an ongoing Ebola outbreak and ethnic violence.

However, in the Ebola hotspot of Beni, an opposition stronghold, residents staged a mock presidential election to show the authorities a decision to postpone the vote there due to health fears was unfounded.

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