DRC Elections: Tshisekedi wins DRC presidential race but SA still mum on result

Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was announced the winner of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential elections. This could represent the first smooth handover of power in the DRC’s history, or a very clever fix by outgoing president Joseph Kabila – and South Africa’s reaction to this is important.

DRC voters woke up on Thursday morning – or many would have stayed awake to hear the 3am announcement first-hand – to a new president-elect, the 55-year-old Felix Tshisekedi, Union for Democracy and Social Progress. Many were celebrating, like deputy secretary-general of the party Rubens Mikindo, who, Al Jazeera reports, told cheering supporters in front of the party’s headquarters that “this is the coronation of a lifetime” and: “This is the beginning of national reconciliation.” Tshisekedi, son of the late Étienne, the face of the DRC’s opposition for many years, won 38.57 of the vote in the December 30 presidential elections, or seven million votes, while another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, who was the frontrunner in the polls, received 6.4 million votes. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was favoured by outgoing president Joseph Kabila, got 4.4-million votes. Fayulu rejected the result, which bodes ill for the credibility of the election, and perhaps also for stability in the mineral-rich country.

BBC World Radio reported that Tshisekedi told supporters he would be a president for all DRC citizens and that he considered Kabila as an important ally. His win comes as there were widespread speculation that Tshisekedi had struck a deal with Kabila after Fayulu was found to be the winner by a comfortable margin in an unofficial collation of results by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO). CENCO didn’t publicly announce this result, as it would have been illegal, but most in the diplomatic community and many in the DRC believed that Fayulu was the real winner. CENCO had 40,000 observers around the DRC’s 70,000 polling stations and there is a high level of trust in the Catholic Church, which provides services like education and health in instances where the government failed to.

South Africa’s reaction to a result that many felt was rigged would be important. After days of adopting a wait-and-see attitude, President Cyril Ramaphosa met with Zambian president Edgar Lungu yesterday morning, shortly before it was revealed that election results would be announced later in the day. Ramaphosa had to interrupt his electioneering schedule – some of which he spent preaching unity by former president Jacob Zuma’s side – in KwaZulu-Natal ahead of the party’s manifesto launch.

Lungu is currently the Southern African Development Community chairperson for the Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security Cooperation (and he is also, incidentally, using his time in South Africa to go for a health check-up, according to his office). The statement released after their meeting didn’t clarify in what capacity he met Ramaphosa, but South Africa is widely accepted to be an important role-player in SADC because of its former involvement in establishing democracy in the DRC, and also because of the solidity of its own democratic institutions.

In the statement, the two presidents “called on CENI to speedily finalise the vote tabulation and release the election results in order to maintain the credibility of elections. The two presidents underscored that the delay in releasing the results of the elections can lead to suspicions and compromise the peace and stability of the country”. They “also called on all the political parties and the generality of Congolese to remain calm and exercise total restraint while waiting for CENI, a constitutionally mandated authority, to release the final results.”

The statement also reiterated the SADC election observer mission’s view that “considering the number of voters, the vast area (that) had to be covered and the new technology implemented” that “the elections were generally peaceful and the right to vote was protected”. No mention was made of the three opposition strongholds – containing more than a million voters – that were excluded from the December 30 vote. There was also no condemnation of the fact that internet and mobile phone services were cut off since a day after the elections. Only those who were able to afford satellite phones or roaming SIM cards on foreign networks could communicate.

South Africa was one of the members of the United Nations Security Council that stood in the way of a public statement proposed by, among others, the United States and France on Friday, which would have urged the DRC not to delay the release of election results. It would also have asked the government to switch the internet back on.

Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at the Centre on International Co-operation at the New York University said Western and African diplomats were looking to SADC to take the initiative to promote stability in the DRC. He said the international community was deferring to the African Union, and the AU is deferring to SADC. “Even within SADC, they are relying on South Africa, who has been very cautious through this whole election result period,” he said. South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki played an instrumental role in helping establish peace in the DRC, and eventually also having democratic elections in 2006 and 2011.

Stearns said the perception was that Ramaphosa was much closer to opposition figures like businessman Moise Katumbi, who threw his weight behind Fayulu after he was disqualified from running, while Zuma was much closer to Kabila. He speculated the reason why Ramaphosa had not been more outspoken in favour of the DRC election, was because he wanted to keep Zuma friendly – especially ahead of South Africa’s own elections. The fact that some figures in South Africa are close to Kabila, could also, however, work in its favour as mediator because Kabila might be prepared to listen to South Africa – although his rejection last year of the appointment of Mbeki as special envoy to the Great Lakes region indicated that any such a process of persuasion would not have been easy. Katumbi was reported to have come to South Africa on Wednesday, but he didn’t respond to messages asking for confirmation.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, did not respond to requests for further information about the meeting, which was also attended by the ministers for foreign affairs, Lindiwe Sisulu and Zambia’s Joseph Malanji, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of State Security Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, and Zambian press secretary Amos Chanca, as well as Zambian High Commissioner Emmanuel Mwamba, who circulated the list of attendees. DM