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January 21, 2019

How does Felix Tshisekedi's poll victory in DR Congo add up?

FILE PHOTO: Felix Tshisekedi attends an election event in Kinshasa./REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Felix Tshisekedi attends an election event in Kinshasa./REUTERS

Felix Tshisekedi has been named as the provisional winner of presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a historic victory for an opposition leader.

But questions have been raised about the accuracy of the results amid accusations of a power-sharing deal with outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

The electoral commission said Mr Tshisekedi had received 38.5% of the vote on 30 December, compared to 34.7% for Martin Fayulu, another opposition figure. Ruling coalition candidate Emmanuel Shadary took 23.8%.

Those raising doubts about the results include the French and Belgian governments and country's influential Catholic Church.

What's their evidence?

The Catholic Church, through the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (Cenco), reported that the results, announced in the early hours of Thursday morning, did not match its findings.

But Cenco, which said it had 40,000 election observers who had visited all 75,000 polling stations, has not released its data.

Three diplomats speaking anonymously to the Reuters news agency said the Church's tallies showed that Mr Fayulu had won.

Opinion polls always need to be treated with caution - even more so in a country where the political climate is volatile.

But African politics expert Pierre Englebert says data from opinion polls conducted before the 30 December election show the official results were "highly implausible".

"The probability Tshisekedi could have scored 38% in a free election is less than 0.0000," he wrote in an article for online magazine African Arguments, pointing to polling data by Berci and Ipsos for the Congo Research Group.

He said the data predicted:

  • A 95% chance that Mr Tshisekedi would get somewhere between 21.3% and 25% of the vote
  • Mr Fayulu would have obtained between 39% and 43% of the vote
  • Mr Shadary would get between 14% and 17.4%.

Mr Englebert acknowledged that opinion polls could be wrong, saying the official results could be correct if turnout was as high as 90% in Mr Tshisekedi's strongholds and really low, around 30%, in Mr Fayulu's strongholds. But he argued that this was extremely unlikely.

So how would fraud be possible?

There are many ways to rig an election.

Academic Nic Cheeseman, who has written a book on how to do just this, told the BBC that if the election was rigged it probably happened during the collation of the results.

He said very few people would have to be involved in this.

"It's very easy. You can have a small number of people in a central office who release the result.

"You can have one person just adding a 1,000 votes to one candidate and subtracting 1,000 from another on an Excel spreadsheet."

He said the risk of fraud was normally avoided by observers tabulating the results in parallel. That did take place, but we do not have the data.

Throughout the election campaign, the use of electronic voting machines was a major source of contention. Voters used the tablet-like devices to select candidates, and then it printed their ballot paper with their choices. The machines were also meant to keep an electronic tally to help verify the results.

But Mr Englebert says that in the days following the vote, election observers reported that some of these machines went missing.

Why is the Church not announcing who it thinks won?

The observers were prohibited by law from releasing their findings before the electoral commission had announced the official results. It is not clear whether the law applies after the official announcement.

But the Catholic Church knows from the experience of past crackdowns that leading people on to the streets can have tragic consequences - and the ruling coalition has warned against "preparing the population for insurrection".

Séverine Autesserre, author of the book The Trouble with Congo, says the Congolese police have been brutal in their dealings with protesters in the past.

She told the BBC that if the Church, whose followers make up about 40% of the country's 80 million population, were to announce that Mr Fayulu had won - the consequences could be dire.

"You would have huge, violent protests. You would have riots," she told the BBC.

"The police would crackdown on the protesters and that would result in a lot of deaths."

On Friday, Catholic bishops urged the UN Security Council to put pressure on the Congolese electoral commission to publish the full results from each polling station.

Could the 'missing million' have made a difference?

Yes, according Mr Englebert.

The election has been postponed until March in three areas: Beni and Butembo in eastern North Kivu province and Yumbi in the west of the country. An Ebola outbreak and insecurity were given as the reasons for the delay.

That amounted to more than 1.7 million voters, more than the number of votes separating the leading candidates.

Some of the those disenfranchised were in Mr Fayulu's strongholds, he says.

What happens next?

Mr Fayulu has vowed to challenge the result in the Constitutional Court.

Candidates must file an appeal within 48 hours of the announcement of the provisional results. Judges then have seven days to deliberate.

Constitutional expert Jacques Ndjoli told the BBC that there were three possible outcomes:

  • The court could confirm Mr Tshisekedi's victory
  • It could order a recount
  • Or cancel the results altogether and call fresh elections.

International pressure to resolve the dispute may play a role but members of the UN Security Council are split. Countries like Belgium and France believe there has been fraud but Chinese and Russian diplomats have stressed that DR Congo's sovereignty and the authority of the electoral commission must be respected.

Corneille Nangaa, head of the electoral commission, has defended the results and accused Cenco of bias.

He told the Security Council about the difficulties the commission had overcome to register 40 million voters for the vote that had taken place amid relative calm, and noted the huge achievement made by those resisting attempts to allow Mr Kabila to run for a third term.

He urged the international community to support the new leader, reminding the Council that for first time in nearly 60 years there would now be a transfer of power at the highest level.

A full breakdown of votes would be released if the Constitutional Court requested it, he said.

The court has never overturned results before, and some think most of its judges are close to the ruling party.

Mr Tshisekedi, the leader of largest opposition party which had faced repression at the hands of the Kabila regime, has denied the allegations of rigging.

If he is confirmed as the winner, he can be expected to be inaugurated within 10 days. The inauguration is reportedly scheduled for 18 January.

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