Monitors reported widespread fraud in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) elections and presidential rivals demanded an annulment as votes were counted on Tuesday in polling marred by deadly violence.
Raising concerns about the integrity of the vote, domestic and international election observers cited ballot box stuffing, undelivered ballot papers and millions of voters turned away from polling stations.
“The irregularities are so widespread it will be difficult for anyone to ignore and say they had no impact on the integrity of the vote,” said Pascal Kambale, country director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
The presidential race pitted Congolese President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, against 10 challengers.
Four of them on Tuesday demanded the annulment of the vote, alleging fraud by Kabila and condemning a host of flaws at polling stations, from the exclusion of opposition party monitors to the failure of many to open.
In a joint statement, three of the candidates said they “demand the invalidation, pure and simple, of these elections given the breaches and irregularities,” a call later echoed by a fourth candidate.
Kabila’s main rival, veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, did not join the call. His campaign said he was still gathering information on the vote from around the country.
The president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, defended the organization of the polls.
“There’s nothing to make us annul these elections, truly nothing, we aren’t even thinking of it. Ninety-nine percent of polling centers opened on voting day and only 485 [of 64,000] had problems,” he told a press conference.
Of the candidates’ annulment call, Mulunda said: “They should wait for the results.”
The elections commission had faced criticism throughout the build-up to the polls for running chronically behind schedule as it struggled to overcome logistical challenges in an impoverished country two-thirds the size of Western Europe.
Preliminary results in the presidential race are not expected until Tuesday next week, and the parliamentary outcome until Jan. 13, leaving the country with a tense wait after a chaotic election during which at least 10 people died.
Monitors said millions of voters had been turned away countrywide because their names were not on the rolls — despite instructions from the elections commission to let anyone with a voter card cast a ballot.
Jerome Bonso, coordinator of the Coalition for Transparent and Peaceful Elections, a Congolese group, said the vote had been tarnished by “attempts at fraud and manipulation,” including ballot box stuffing.
“It’s an explosive atmosphere,” he said. “We risk having a very critical period of tensions.”
A UN source reported discoveries of pre-marked ballots and the US expressed concern about what it described as “anomalies.”
The UN Security Council also slapped sanctions on Tuesday on a Congolese militia leader, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, who is standing for parliament despite being wanted for his alleged role in mass rapes.
Sheka is head of the Mai Mai Sheka group, accused of hundreds of rapes of women and children last year in the eastern district of Walikale.
The French, British and US missions to the UN had him added to the list of people subject to a worldwide travel ban and assets freeze.