Democratic Republic of the Congo President Joseph Kabila led chief rival Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi 49 percent to 34 with about half of polling centers counted on Sunday, as fears of post-poll violence drove thousands from the capital.
The vast central African state is enduring a tense wait before the election commission announces the winner of the presidential race today, a result the supreme court must then review and confirm by Dec. 17.
Fearing unrest around the announcement, more than 3,000 people have fled Kinshasa over the weekend for Brazzaville, the capital of neighboring Congo, an -immigration -official said on Sunday.
DR Congo’s influential bishops, meanwhile, said on Sunday that the political situation reminded them of “a high-speed train going straight toward a wall,” and echoed appeals for calm from the UN Security Council, the EU, the US and international election monitors.
“It’s important to us to exhort the Congolese people to remember how much our country has regressed because of the lack of restraint that, in the past, has brought about violence, pillaging and the destruction of infrastructure, whose consequences we suffer to this day,” said Bishop Nicolas Djombo, president of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo.
Last Monday’s vote, just the second since back-to-back wars that gripped the country from 1996 to 2003, was marred by deadly rebel attacks and rioting, and the long wait for results has filled with veiled threats of violence from the opposition and pledges of a crackdown from the ruling coalition.
Tshisekedi said on Saturday he rejected the early vote count and warned Kabila and election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda to “respect the will of the Congolese people.”
“If they don’t, they risk committing suicidal acts. I call all our people to stay vigilant so that if needed they can execute the orders I will give them,” he said.
The third-place candidate, ex-national assembly speaker Vital Kamerhe, threw his support behind Tshisekedi and said he also rejected the early figures.
The election commission was originally not expected to release any results until today, but said on Friday it had decided to release early returns to stanch a flood of rumors and false reports about the count.
However, the partial results have had a distinct geographical skew toward Kabila strongholds.
Sunday’s results included 53 percent of the country’s 64,000 polling centers. However, they reflected 72 percent of poll stations in Katanga Province, where Kabila is popular, and just 27 percent in Kinshasa, where Tshisekedi has greater support.
The commission was to release more results yesterday.
Fears have risen of fresh unrest around today’s announcement of the outcome, after a voting day marred by rebel attacks and riots and a campaign that saw deadly police crackdowns on opposition rallies and a series of clashes between rival partisans.
Authorities in Mbuji-Mayi, capital of Tshisekedi stronghold Kasai Oriental, have imposed a 10pm to 6am curfew.
In the restive southeastern city of Lubumbashi, Kabila’s presidential guard has been deployed.
In Kinshasa, the government has ordered cellphone providers to block text message services on their networks until further notice, after a flurry of election-related rumors swirled via SMS.
International officials close to the process have begun -whispering that the election commission may not be able to meet today’s deadline.