President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday, triggering violent protests and a rival claim to power by his main challenger. Kabila gained 49% of the vote against 32% for veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the election commission announced.
But Tshisekedi, 78, immediately disputed the result and declared himself president. “I consider these results a real provocation of the Congolese people,” he said on RFI Radio. “As a consequence, I consider myself, from today, the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Observers fear such statements could throw a match to the tinderbox of Kinshasa, where there were reports of unrest and gunfire soon after the results were announced. Police fired teargas to break up angry demonstrations, according to witnesses, and plumes of smoke smudged the skyline as tyres were burned outside counting centres. A huge security operation put opposition strongholds in the city under lockdown.
Kabila, 40, came to power in 2001 when his father, Laurent, who had ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, was shot dead by a bodyguard. Friday’s result means the canny political strategist will extend his reign to at least 15 years.
“The electoral commission notes that the candidate Joseph Kabila has achieved a majority with, 8,880,944 votes, or 48.97% of votes cast,” said commission head Daniel Ngoy Mulunda. A total of 18.14 million ballots were cast.
In a tightly controlled pro-Kabila downtown district of Kinshasa near the election commission, people hung out of balconies cheering at the results. A woman danced in the street. Police in riot gear stood to attention in their trucks. In the Limite neighbourhood, where Tshisekedi lives, the mood was dark. “This is a total disaster,” Fabien Bukasa, a Tshisekedi supporter, told the Associated Press. “We are thinking about what to do. We do not know what will happen.”