Is the December 30 election in the Democratic Republic of Congo going down the 2011 way?
That is the question observers are asking after the opposition coalition said they will not accept a result that does not declare their candidate Martin Fayulu the winner.
Another opposition candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, said that electoral body must declare true results as per the ballots cast.
The presidential contest is a three-man contest between Kabila’s protégé, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, and the two main opposition candidates, Mr Fayulu and Mr Tshisekedi.
In 2011, the then main opposition leader the late Etienne Tshisekedi — rejected the results, after Joseph Kabila had been declared the winner after garnering 49 per cent of the vote against his 32 per cent. He later declared himself president, which resulted in a political standoff for almost a year.
Provisional results for the December 30 elections are expected on January 6, with the final outcome on January 15 and a president sworn in on January 18. However, the electoral agency has said they may take longer, because counting centres were still waiting for more than 80 per cent of local vote tallies.
The opposition says the delay is a sign of fraud.
Questions still hang over the historic election that could see the first smooth transfer of power in 59 years of the country’s independence.
Regional observers have said the vote went relatively well given the organisational challenges. Domestic monitors, however, have raised concerns about potential irregularities. Election monitors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said in their report that presidential election "went relatively well" despite chaotic scenes that prevented many from voting.
“Taking into account the range of challenges posed by these elections, the mission has concluded that the elections were relatively well-managed. The election allowed the majority of the Congolese population to exercise its right to vote,” the SADC mission said in a statement on January 2.
But diplomats and other election observers have said that the vast country was poorly prepared for the vote despite repeated delays.
The government refused to accredit election monitors from the European Union and the US-based Carter Centre, which said there were widespread irregularities in the 2011 election.
The government blocked Internet access and SMS services across the country, which the opposition claimed was proof of their fears that the results were being manipulated. The signal to Radio France Internationale was also jammed.
But the Kabila administration on Thursday defended the credibility of the election and its decision to cut Internet access to 80 million citizens in the aftermath. Government spokesman Lambert Mende told reporters that the election went smoothly.
Mr Mende said the government had cut the Internet until the election results were published to stop the opposition, journalists and others on social media from publishing fake results that could spark violence.
“The government is only doing its duty to ensure the implementation of the law,” he said.
Thousands did not vote due to delays in supplying electoral materials and long queues, while the government barred over 1.2 million voters from casting their ballots because of the fear of Ebola in the country's northeast region.
The chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce criticised the conduct of the elections, saying that they were not fair because one million voters were barred from voting in the opposition strongholds. According to Mr Royce, voting machines did not work well, people had to queue for hours before they could vote, and there was not enough election material.
Mr Royce said the United States could adopt new sanctions, under a Bill passed in November, against Congolese officials who have undermined the democratic process.
Opinion polls that were released three days to the elections by the New York University, an affiliated Congo Research Group, put Mr Fayulu in the lead with 44 per cent, followed by Mr Tshisekedi at 24 per cent and Mr Shadary at 18 per cent.
Catholic bishops said they already knew who had won the election, based on results the National Episcopal Conference of Congo collected from the field. They, however, did not name the candidate.
The electoral commission must “publish in all responsibility the results of the election in respect of truth and justice,” Donatien Nshole, secretary-general of the conference, told journalists in Kinshasa. In a statement read at the meeting, the influential institution, known as CENCO, urged the commission to release hand-counted results from each polling station “to dispel any suspicion.”
CENCO deployed 40,000 observers nationwide to monitor the presidential and parliamentary polls. The Catholic organisation registered various problems on election day, including polling stations that opened late and voting machines that broke down.
“The irregularities could not substantially alter the choice the Congolese people clearly expressed at the ballot box,” Mr Nshole said.
Whatever the results, the incoming president will have an uphill task reviving the economy, dealing with the many armed groups in the east of country and cleaning up the mining industry beset by illegal mining and smuggling.
In 2018, Congo’s economy, which is mining-dependent, grew by 3.7 per cent, but economists are projecting an upturn following the rise in the prices of copper and cobalt — two of the country’s key export commodities.
However, political tension and the likelihood violence arising from the election results and the violence in the eastern part of the country remain the two biggest challenges for the incoming leader.
Already, the Red Cross announced on Thursday that hundreds of Congolese have been fleeing into Uganda every day since the election, raising concerns of a possible cross-border spread of Ebola.