The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Constitutional Court has sworn in a new president following contentious elections held at the end of 2018, reports the Associated Press.
Newly elected President Felix Tshisekedi is the leader of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the main opposition party in the DRC. He is also the son of the UDPS’ charismatic former leader, Étienne Tshisekedi, who died in 2017.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) confirmed the election’s results on January 10, saying that Tshisekedi won around 38 percent of the vote while the runner-up, Martin Fayulu, received around 34 percent.
Mr. Tshisekedi was sworn in as the DRC’s president on January 24 at a ceremony in the capital of Kinshasa, marking the first peaceful transfer of power in the Congo since the country gained independence from Belgium in 1960. In his inaugural address, the new president promised to tackle widespread corruption, deal with the dozens of rebel groups that plague the countryside, and release all political prisoners held by the government, reports the Associated Press.
Mr. Tshisekedi’s victory over challengers Martin Fayulu and Emmanuel Shadary invited contention within the DRC and from abroad, with some claiming that the election was rigged. Mr. Shadary, a former interior minister and the chosen successor to outgoing president Joseph Kabila, accepted the results of the election and conceded the race to Tshisekedi.
Mr. Fayulu, a former ExxonMobil executive, claims that he is the legitimate president of the DRC, citing evidence from the Catholic Church’s election observers that says that he won the election. The Church, which is among one of the most trusted and respected institutions in the DRC, had over 40,000 observers at polling stations across the country and concluded that Fayulu was the winner.
Mr. Fayulu publicly proclaimed that the vote was rigged. He alleges that Kabila guaranteed Tshisekedi victory in exchange for overlooking years of cronyism and corruption under his administration.
Mr. Fayulu petitioned the DRC’s Constitutional Court to order the country’s electoral commission to hold a full recount of the votes. Fayulu cited an anonymous whistleblower who alleged that leaked data from the CENI showed Fayulu winning the election.
The Economist reports that the Court, which many view as susceptible to Kabila’s influence, ruled in favor of Tshisekedi by deciding on January 20 that those who brought forward the suit provided no evidence of fraud.
The DRC has long awaited fair elections. The first vote was originally supposed to take place in 2016 because President Kabila reached his constitutional term limits after serving for 15 years. However, the election was postponed. Elections were rescheduled for December 2018 to much celebration.
However, the lead-up to the vote was not without its problems. Two of Kabila’s biggest rivals, Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, were barred from running and could not enter the country, CENI also barred three opposition stronghold cities, Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi, from the December 30 election due to security and Ebola concerns. This denied an estimated 1.2 million citizens from voting.
Elections took place on December 30 and occurred without significant violence. Nonetheless, outside observers like the African Union and the European Union noted a number of irregularities in the voting process, ranging from broken voting machines to polling stations opening late or closing early, reports Reuters.
Felix Tshisekedi’s win came as a shock, as public opinion polls before the election had him far behind Mr. Fayulu. According to the Financial Times, leaked data from CENI supports Fayulu’s claim of a rigged ballot, showing that he won the election with nearly 60 percent of the vote while Tshisekedi garnered only 19 percent.
The African Union (AU) suspended a high-level delegation to the country following the Constitutional Court’s ruling and called on the Congolese government to suspend the release of final election results due to “serious doubts” in electoral integrity. Nonetheless, AFP reports that the government denied the AU’s request in full.
Felix Tshisekedi is set to become the DRC’s next president, but his effectiveness in office may be limited by the results of the parliamentary elections that also took place on December 30, reports AfricaNews. Outgoing President Kabila’s Common Front for the Congo (FCC) won a majority, taking 288 out of the 500 seats, while Martin Fayulu’s Lamuka coalition won 94 seats.
Mr. Tshisekedi’s Union for Democratic and Social Progress (UDPS) won a meager 46 seats, coming in third place. This means that Tshisekedi will need to appoint a prime minister from the FCC and form a coalition government with Kabila’s support, giving the former president considerable influence in the new administration.