KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s main opposition party welcomed a delay in election results on Wednesday since this would allow time to make the vote more credible, as relative calm returned to the country’s capital.
Violence has flared in the vast, impoverished central African country amid allegations of fraud and logistical hurdles, raising worries the first locally organised election since a 1998-2003 war could trigger further bloodshed.
“This delay is the search for truth, it’s not a deliberate act,” said Remy Masamba, a spokesman for the UDPS, the party of main opposition challenger Etienne Tshisekedi.
“We think the international community has taken hold of the situation and started to push for more transparency, a minimum of credibility.”
Congo’s electoral body had been due to declare complete preliminary results on Tuesday, but delayed it by 48 hours because it had not received official tallies from all 63,000 polling stations across a country more than half the size of the European Union.
With nearly 90 percent of ballot papers counted, President Joseph Kabila has just under half the vote and leads Tshisekedi by 15 points, the National Election Commission said. The opposition has rejected the figures repeatedly as “fantasy”.
Britain and the United States have urged the country’s electoral commission to publish the results details, polling station by polling station, to ensure credibility.
“We are pressing the electoral commission to publish . polling station by polling station the results so any necessary appeals by those taking part can take place,” Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s secretary of state for international development, told parliament.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Twitter that the “release of the results as soon as possible, polling station by polling station, (is) critical.”
At least 18 people have been killed in election-related violence, according to Human Rights Watch, and neighbouring Congo Republic has prepared a refugee camp in case an escalation triggers an exodus from the capital Kinshasa.
Kinshasa remained largely locked down on Wednesday, with rows of shops emptied of stock and the city’s normally gridlocked roads empty.
Police fired teargas at UDPS supporters after blocking off their route to the party’s headquarters, a few hundred metres from Tshisekedi’s house, a Reuters witness said.
Security fears also meant many of the Kinshasa’s battered minibuses and taxis were not running, with people finding it hard to move around town, said Eugenie Mandondo, a waitress at a bar in the centre of the city.
“If it carries on like this, how are we going to come to work? We’ll have to stay at home,” she said.
The massive presence of security forces has, however, failed to reassure ordinary residents, according to Eva Moke, who sells CDs in the central market.
“They don’t protect the people, so the more we see, the more we’re scared,” he said of the trucks full of teargas toting police, which have patrolled the city in recent days.
Diplomats including the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo met both Kabila and Tshisekedi on Monday, but have refused to say what was discussed.
The November 28 polls were poorly organised and suffered from widespread irregularities and fraud, according to the EU and Carter Center observer missions, but monitors have stopped short of calling for results to be annulled.
Many problems were caused by a lack of preparation, observers say, after the electoral commission scrambled to organise the vote in time to announce a winner on December 6, the fifth anniversary of Kabila’s inauguration.
The opposition has previously said it would not recognise Kabila as president after his five-year constitutional mandate expires, but UDPS spokesman Masamba said that decision had been reversed.