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Congo opposition leader is shock winner of presidential vote

Prospective change of administration may spur optimism among mining investors.

Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the surprise winner of last month’s presidential election.

The win confounds expectations that former President Joseph Kabila’s protege, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, would become leader of the world’s biggest cobalt producer. If the Constitutional Court validates the result, it’ll mark the first transfer of power by the ballot box since Congo gained independence from Belgium nearly six decades ago. Rival opposition leader Martin Fayulu immediately disputed Tshisekedi’s victory, calling it “an unacceptable electoral fraud.”

Read: Runner-up in Congo’s presidential election dismisses results as an ‘electoral coup’

The prospective change of administration may spur optimism among mining investors including Glencore and Barrick Gold that they can reverse elements of a fiercely disputed new industry code that raised royalties and added taxes.

Tshisekedi, 55, garnered 7.05 million votes, the electoral commission, known as CENI, said in provisional results broadcast on state television Thursday in the capital, Kinshasa. About 18.3 million votes were cast, representing turnout of almost 48 %.

Fabricated’ results

Tshisekedi “is provisionally proclaimed elected as president,” CENI President Corneille Nangaa said. Fayulu got 6.37 million ballots, while Shadary obtained 4.36 million, he said.

“You know that this proclamation is the fruit of results trafficked, invented and fabricated,” Fayulu told reporters after the results were announced. “These results have nothing to do with the truth of the ballot box.”

The Kabila family has led Congo for more than 20 years. The outgoing president succeeded his assassinated father in 2001 before winning elections in 2006 and again five years later. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, Kabila handpicked Shadary, a loyalist former interior minister, to run for the ruling Common Front for Congo coalition, fuelling suspicions the current head of state intended to retain considerable influence over his preferred successor.

Pre-election polling by New York University’s Congo Research Group recorded Shadary trailing the opposition by a large margin — with Tshisekedi topping a survey in October and Fayulu commanding a strong lead two days before the vote.

Tshisekedi’s party has traditionally been strong in Kinshasa and the central Kasai region. He joined forces with Vital Kamerhe, the head of another major opposition party who came third in the 2011 election, in an effort to boost his popularity in eastern Congo. Kamerhe is set to serve as Tshisekedi’s prime minister under the terms of their agreement.

Analysts are now looking to the verdict of the influential body representing Congo’s Catholic bishops that said Jan. 3 that results gathered at polling stations on election day by its 40,000-strong observation mission showed which candidate had won, without naming the person. The New York Times cited a senior adviser to Kabila as saying the Catholic group believed Fayulu, rather than Tshisekedi, won comfortably.

“If we find that the results of the catholic church are not the same as those of the electoral commission we will know there was a change of plan,” said Stephanie Wolters at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “Those of us who have followed this very closely have all been told that there were conversations behind the scenes between Tshisekedi and Kabila.”

Fayulu called on the religious body for support and to proclaim him the winner. “They will not steal victory from Martin Fayulu,” he said.

Shadary’s campaign and CENI accused the bishops of violating Congolese law and risking a popular uprising.

CENI released the results three days later than scheduled, prompting speculation about how the agency was handling the counting process. SYMOCEL, a group of Congolese civil society organizations which deployed 20,000 election observers, said in a report on Tuesday there had been major irregularities at the results-compilation centers, with numerous cases registered in Shadary’s home province of Maniema.

Hours before the results were released, the Catholic organization urged CENI to honor “its duty to publish only results from the ballot boxes.” A body representing Congo’s Protestant leadership and SYMOCEL co-signed the document.

“Outgoing President Joseph Kabila will be able to influence Tshisekedi, who now owes his ascendancy to power to Kabila’s control of the electoral commission,” Robert Besseling, a Johannesburg-based executive director at business risk consultancy Exx Africa, said in an emailed note. “At least initially, Tshisekedi will be dependent on the political favour of Kabila, who seeks immunity from prosecution and protection for his family’s substantial business interests.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P

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