Congo's electoral commission slams Catholic Church over vote comment

By Giulia Paravicini
1 / 10

A Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission official marks a bag after the counting of presidential elections ballots at tallying centre in Kinshasa

A Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) official marks a bag after the counting of presidential elections ballots at tallying centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Giulia Paravicini

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's electoral commission accused the country's Catholic Church on Friday of "preparing an insurrection" by saying it knows the winner of last Sunday's presidential election.

The commission is scheduled to release provisional results on Sunday but has said there could be delays because of the slow arrival of tally sheets.

Donatien Nshole, the secretary-general of the Church's bishops' conference, known as CENCO, said on Thursday its vote tallies showed a clear victor in the Dec. 30 election, a pronouncement widely seen as a warning to authorities against rigging the vote.

"The announcement of voting trends by Priest Nshole is likely to brainwash the population while preparing an insurrection that CENCO alone will be responsible for," commission president Corneille Nangaa wrote in a letter to CENCO president Marcel Utembi, seen by Reuters.

Nangaa said CENCO's declaration violated electoral law and a code of conduct signed by poll monitors that gives the electoral commission, CENI, alone the authority to announce results.

The Catholic Church is one of Congo's most powerful institutions, representing about 40 percent of its 80 million people.

The ruling coalition of President Joseph Kabila, which is backing his hand-picked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, also took aim at CENCO on Thursday.

The coalition "deplores ... the partisan, irresponsible and anarchic attitude of CENCO," said Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, an adviser to Kabila and spokesman for Shadary.

The U.N. Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on the latest developments on Friday at the request of France. French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said the 15-member body would continue to monitor the electoral process in Congo.

"The consolidation of the results must continue with transparency," Delattre told reporters. "We call on all actors for calm and restraint."

Observers and the opposition say the election was marred by serious irregularities. The opposition, represented by its two main candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, and Shadary's camp have all claimed they are on course to win, without posting specific figures.

Kikaya told Reuters Kabila had met Catholic bishops on Friday but provided no details.

The government says the election was fair and went smoothly.

The poll is meant to lead to Congo's first democratic transfer of power, but the international community has raised concerns that a disputed result could cause unrest, as was the case after the 2006 and 2011 elections.

President Donald Trump said on Friday about 80 U.S. military personnel had deployed to Gabon in case they were needed to protect American citizens and diplomatic facilities in Congo.

On Thursday, the United States called on CENI to publish accurate results and threatened sanctions against anyone who sought to undermine the process.

An election dispute could further destabilise Congo's volatile eastern provinces, where wars around the turn of the century resulted in millions of deaths, most from hunger and disease, and where dozens of militia remain active.


INTERNET CUT

Kabila's government cut access to the internet as well as Radio France Internationale (RFI) and some local media this week, saying it wanted to prevent fake results from circulating.

"This being a very sensitive, a very tense period, we are concerned that these efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when the results are announced," Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.

"We are calling on all sides to refrain from the use of violence," she said.

The European Union also called on election authorities to ensure the results reflect the will of the Congolese people.

Opinion polls had shown Shadary trailing Fayulu and Tshisekedi, who have been buoyed by rising dissatisfaction with Kabila's tenure.

Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, helped reunify the country amid civil war and has presided over strong economic growth, driven by exports of copper and cobalt, a component of electric car batteries.

But critics say there has been little improvement in the quality of life for average Congolese and accuse the government of brutally suppressing dissent.


(Additional reporting by Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing By Aaron Ross; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Sandra Maler)