MUNDELA: Miracle opinion polls, 'cheating machines' and the 2018 DRC presidential election

Felix Tshisekedi who was announced as the winner of the presidential election gestures to his supporters in Kinshasa, January 10, 2019. /REUTERS
Felix Tshisekedi who was announced as the winner of the presidential election gestures to his supporters in Kinshasa, January 10, 2019. /REUTERS

A false narrative has been carefully crafted that Martin Fayulu should have won the presidential elections

in the DRC because he was the leading candidate in the opinion polls. And that Felix Tshisekedi is the surprise winner because he was not expected to win based on the same polls.

This narrative is outright dishonest. The truth is the precise opposite of the narrative being peddled to the

public. So, let’s examine the facts.

Until December 29, 2018, just one day before the DRC presidential election, Fayulu had never been above eight per cent in any opinion poll over the last two years in the DRC. And he represents a political party, the Engagement for Citizenship and Development, which only has one representative in the legislature: Fayulu himself. His party has no political infrastructure in the DRC.

On December 29, just one day before the election, an opinion poll appeared that catapulted him from eight per cent to 47 per cent. That is the only opinion poll that ever put him above eight per cent. It’s the “miracle” opinion poll!

Until December 29, Tshisekedi had consistently led in every opinion poll through out the year. In addition, he is the leader of the largest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), which has vast political infrastructure across the country.

Tshisekedi’s father, the late Etienne Tshisekedi, was the doyen of opposition politics in the DRC, opposing every dictator that ever ruled Congo. When he suddenly passed away in Belgium two years ago, where he had gone for a brief medical check up, President Joseph Kabila refused to allow his remains to be returned to Congo. To this day, the remains of Congo’s most beloved opposition leader remains in a morgue in Belgium.

While growing up, the younger Tshisekedi lived in an enforced internal exile in Congo during the reign of Mobutu Sese Seko. It was a very difficult time for the Tshisekedi family. Through it all, however, they never compromised their political principles or their dogged commitment to democracy in Congo. In fact, the young Tshisekedi is one of only a handful of the major political figures in the DRC who has never worked with Kabila. And no one has ever publicly questioned his integrity or his commitment to democracy and fair play.

The President-elect’s sin, at least in the eyes of his political detractors, lies in his consistent and public refusal to boycott the election. He said it would be a grave mistake to boycott having fought so hard and having waited for so long to have it. To him, the election would mark the moment of liberation for Congo.

On this, he and Fayulu stood on opposite sides. Fayulu campaigned vigorously that the election must be boycotted, if voting machines were used. He called them “the cheating machines.”

Tshisekedi and his party, the UDPS, transparently maintained they would participate in the election with or without the voting machines.

At a key opposition meeting in Geneva in November 2018, where opposition leaders gathered to choose

a sole opposition candidate, Tshisekedi was the prohibitive favourite. Everyone around the world expected him to emerge as the sole opposition leader. At that time, Fayulu was not known internationally or domestically outside Kinshasa, where he was a well-known political activist.

To everyone’s great surprise, Fayulu was selected in Geneva over Tshisekedi. When the news broke in the DRC, there were spontaneous riots across the country. Even though Tshisekedi had graciously accepted his colleagues’ surprise verdict in Geneva, his political base in Congo revolted and demanded that he withdraws from the Geneva Accord. Tshisekedi withdrew from the Geneva Accord and on November 23, formed a political alliance in Nairobi, (the “Nairobi Accord”) with Vital Kamerhe, the second most popular opposition presidential candidate and leader of the Union for the Congolese nation. When the joint team of Tshisekedi and Kamerhe returned to Kinshasa on December 15 to launch their campaign, they were welcomed by over a million people – a scene replayed across the country throughout the presidential campaign. One ecstatic scene after another.

But in Geneva on November 10,the issue was the question of the voting machines. Had Tshisekedi agreed to boycott if the voting machines were used, he would have emerged in Geneva as the sole opposition leader. But he refused on principle to make such a compromise, knowing full well that he would have to dishonour it or be forced to boycott the elections.

Fayulu, on the other hand, took a purist position against “the cheating machines.” He would later participate in the election, despite the machines being used.

The Geneva Accord marked the rise of Fayulu as a major Congolese opposition figure. It also marked the rise of a very strange media narrative that has persisted: That Fayulu, and not

Tshisekedi, was the popular opposition leader in the DRC, hence the recurring and the carefully orchestrated reference to the “surprised” victory.

It’s difficult to determine where fiction ends and where reality begins. It’s not dissimilar to the narrative about “the cheating machines”— a narrative that was so dissembled that it was difficult to differentiate facts from fictions.

Special Envoy of Felix Tshisekedi, the

President-elect of the Democratic Republic of Congo