UDPS lawyers, representing Felix Tshisekedi, and Jean-Marc Kabund, General Secretary of UDPS (R-with hat) celebrate following the pronouncement of the judges of the Constitutional Court which invalidated Martin Fayulu's appeal and confirmed Tshisekedi's victory in the presidential election in Kinshasa on January 19, 2019. - DR Congo's top court on Sunday declared opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi the winner of disputed presidential elections after throwing out a legal challenge by the runner-up. (Photo by Caroline THIRION / AFP)CAROLINE THIRION/AFP/Getty Images
Lawyers representing Felix Tshisekedi celebrate on Saturday following the ruling by the constitutional court © AFP

Regional leaders moved swiftly on Sunday to snuff out controversy over the election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, congratulating Felix Tshisekedi as president-elect after the constitutional court rejected a claim that the result had been rigged.

Martin Fayulu, an opposition candidate who called the result an “electoral coup”, remained defiant, referring to himself as the “sole legitimate president” and urging both Congolese and the international community to reject the result.

His remarks could potentially stoke violence between rival supporters, though the streets of Kinshasa and other big cities remained mostly calm on Sunday as the vast nation of 80m people absorbed the result.

The tide may have started to turn against Mr Fayulu on Sunday when the Southern African Development Community and Cyril Ramaphosa, president of regional heavyweight South Africa, both issued statements congratulating Mr Tshisekedi on his victory.

“All stakeholders are urged to accept the outcome of the court and move on to consolidate democracy and preserve peace, stability and security of the country,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

The African Union, led by Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, dealt a further blow to Mr Fayulu, cancelling its planned delegation to Kinshasa on Monday. Last week, several AU heads of state took the unusual step of casting “serious doubt” on last month’s election and asking Congo’s constitutional court to delay its decision, advice it ignored.

After the court announced its verdict which, like the results of the election itself, came in the middle of the night, Mr Tshisekedi told supporters: “It is Congo that won. It is not the victory of one camp against another.”

The controversy follows an analysis of leaked data by the Financial Times that indicated Mr Fayulu had won the election with nearly 60 per cent, putting Mr Tshisekedi a distant second. The constitutional court called Mr Fayulu’s call for a recount “absurd”.

Its confirmation of the result may further convince Mr Fayulu’s supporters that Joseph Kabila, in power for nearly 18 years, has the organs of state firmly under his control. Opponents say Mr Kabila, who came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father, rigged the poll and struck a backroom power-sharing deal with Mr Tshisekedi, who was more amenable to compromise than Mr Fayulu.

The disputed process unfolded amid an internet blackout that kept much of the country in the dark about what was going on in Kinshasa. However, having shut down internet services on December 31, the day after the vote, the government restored the connection just moments before the constitutional court issued its announcement confirming Mr Tshisekedi’s victory.

Mr Kabila’s sprawling coalition, known as the Common Front for Congo, won as many as 350 out of 500 seats in a parallel parliamentary election, according to party officials. Together with the alleged alliance with Mr Tshisekedi, the legislative landslide could ensure Mr Kabila’s allies retain control of many parts of the mineral-dominated economy and security apparatus.

Under the constitution, the prime minister must be selected from the party with most seats in the National Assembly.

Adeline Van Houtte, an expert on central Africa at The Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said: “It seems that the political crisis in the DRC is far from being over.”

The powerful backers of Mr Fayulu — Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi, neither of whom were allowed to run — were now likely to call their supporters out on the streets, she said.

Mr Tshisekedi is set to be inaugurated on Tuesday.

Get alerts on African politics when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article