The Democratic Republic of Congo has failed to meet a deadline to announce its presidential election results, citing logistical problems amid widespread accusations of fraud.
With the official count uncertain, both leading contenders – incumbent president Joseph Kabila and challenger Etienne Tshisekedi – have already claimed victory, raising fears of bloodshed in the violence-prone country if neither accepts the result.
Partial results from Ceni, the national election commission, with 89 per cent of ballots counted, put Mr Kabila ahead with 49 per cent of the vote, increasing his margin ahead of Mr Tshisekedi, who was trailing on 33 per cent.
Police and opposition supporters clashed not far from Mr Tshisekedi’s Kinshasa home on Tuesday and at least 18 people have been killed in election-related violence, according to Human Rights Watch, which has urged Congo to restrain security forces. Main thoroughfares in key towns across the country were unusually empty on Tuesday, however, as state security patrolled the streets pending the results and upheld a curfew in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Mr Tshisekedi’s Kasai stronghold.
Several thousand people have already left Kinshasa for the neighbouring Republic of Congo and expatriate families evacuated mining-rich Katanga province in the south ahead of results. The International Criminal Court in The Hague said it had received “multiple reports” of violent attacks against civilians, fighting between rival factions and attacks by armed groups and the national security forces.
“Electoral violence is no longer a ticket to power, I assure you. It is a ticket to The Hague,” said prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on Tuesday.
Mr Kabila is defending his presidency against 10 challengers.
Ceni, with a majority of members aligned with Mr Kabila, said on Tuesday that technical difficulties had forced a 48-hour delay for the results that had been due by midnight.
Mr Tshisekedi’s camp says it accepts the delay solely on condition that results are published by district or polling station, and each time signed off by the witnesses and president of each of the more than 63,000 polling stations.
“Up to now, Daniel Mulunda [Ceni’s president] has just been publishing figures but with no legal back-up, not by cities or district, which is illegal,” said Albert Moleka, a spokesman for Mr Tshisekedi, adding he thought it doubtful Ceni could rectify the problem within two days.
He said a visit from a diplomatic delegation including Roger Meece, the UN peacekeeping mission head, had urged Mr Tshisekedi, who previously said any postponement would be unconstitutional, to accept the delay.
“Mr Kabila just needs to get all the soldiers and police off the streets so that tension, which is becoming psychotic, getting on everybody’s nerves, will disappear,” said Mr Moleka, adding new army structures are part of plans to intimidate the civilians. “It’s a provocation to the people,” he said.
More than 32m Congolese were registered to vote in only the second set of elections since the end of a 1998-2003 war in which an estimated 5m people died, but irregularities including missing ballots and voter intimidation have undermined the polls.