KINSHASA, Congo – A top church leader in Congo on Monday cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections that gave victory to President Joseph Kabila, as the incumbent held a press conference to deny there was voting fraud in this vast, mineral-rich and unstable Central African nation.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, a member of the influential clergy, said he worried about the climate of the country after election results were released.
“It should be concluded that the results do not conform to truth nor justice,” Monsengwo said.
The Roman Catholic Church holds enormous sway in this overwhelmingly Christian nation.
The clergy organized the largest observation mission of 30,000 election monitors, who were present in more than 20 percent of the 60,000 polling stations.
Kabila said Monday there was no doubting the validity of the country’s Nov. 28 poll. In a press conference with international media, he dismissed claims that the vote lacked credibility. He also dismissed claims that there was evidence of vote inflation in his home county.
Kabila said he was surprised that his main challenger, opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, hadn’t phoned to congratulate him. He said if Tshisekedi doesn’t like the results, he should “make good use of the justice system.”
The clergy’s criticisms echo those released this weekend by observers from the Atlanta-based Carter Center. The organization founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also said Congo’s election results lacked credibility. The organization had earlier said the vote was marred by technical shortcomings, but that there was not evidence of systematic fraud. But in a statement over the weekend, Carter Center observers showed evidence of possible vote tampering, as well as of vote inflation in regions of the country favorable to Kabila, accompanied by vote suppression in areas known to be bastions of support for the opposition.
Kabila was declared the winner with 49 percent of vote. Tshisekedi, who finished second with 32 percent, said he rejects the results and considers himself the country’s elected leader. In countries throughout Europe, Tshisekedi’s supporters took to the streets, including in London, where police confirmed they have arrested 143 protesters.
The Carter Center said that it is not clear if irregularities were widespread enough to have changed the race’s outcome, however, as Tshisekedi claims.
Observers fear unrest if the opposition leader orders his supporters to take to the streets. So far, Tshisekedi has called for calm, telling his supporters to await his instructions.
Monsengwo said there must be dialogue to avoid a grave crisis in the country and called on all political actors to avoid violence.
“Since the results are provisional and must be confirmed by the Supreme Court, we ask the protesters to appeal, to resort to legal means and to not engage in violence,” he said.
The November election was Congo’s second democratic vote in its 51-year history, and the first free election to be organized by the government. The 2006 vote was handled by the United Nations.
Congo’s back-to-back civil wars in the 1990s consumed the region, and destroyed the nation whose population is now nudging 70 million. The country is ranked last on the United Nations’ global survey of human development.