The Democratic Republic of Congo faces possible violence and political uncertainty as the surprise outcome of the recent presidential election undergoes a court challenge.
The country’s Electoral Commission said last week that Felix Tshisekedi, an opposition candidate, secured 38.6 percent of the 18 million votes cast. Martin Fayulu, another opposition candidate, garnered 34.8 percent, while ruling party contender Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary received 23.8 percent.
Shortly before the election, Tshisekedi, 55, broke away from the opposition coalition as it attempted to unite behind a single presidential candidate. He pledged instead to work in harmony with incumbent President Joseph Kabila, saying, “Today we should no longer see him as an adversary, but rather as a partner for democratic change in our country.”
Kabila has led the country since 2001 after the assassination of Laurent Kabila, his father and the former president. A three-term limit barred Kabila from running again for office, but he delayed the vote for two years, igniting deadly protests throughout the country.
Tshisekedi’s presidency could mark the country’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power, but runner-up Fayulu rejected the results as an “electoral coup,” accusing Tshisekedi of reaching a backroom deal with Kabila. On Saturday, Fayulu filed a challenge with the Congolese Constitutional Court demanding a recount. The court has seven days to reach a decision.
Fayulu is not the only one calling for a recount. The Congolese Catholic Church, which sent out a 40,000-strong observer mission during the election, noted the results “do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission from polling stations and vote counts.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian requested clarification of the vote, and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted he was “very concerned about discrepancies” in the results. The influential Southern African Development Community said a recount would “provide the necessary assurance to both winners and losers.”
Uncertainty in the country could increase with the court’s ruling. Congo’s Electoral Commission President Corneille Nangaa said the court order could mean Kabila stays in power until a new vote is held.
Stephanie Wolters, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said it is still essential to confirm the legitimacy of the vote: “We’re in a period of contestation, and I think that without clarity, we’re going to continue to have political instability.”