KINSHASA (Reuters) – In the lush botanical garden of Kinshasa, the scene was destined to celebrate the election of Joseph Kabila who had chosen to replace him as president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, shows ink on his hand after having expressed his vote in a Kinshasa polling station, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on December 30, 2018. REUTERS / Baz Ratner
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary's face was illuminated by yellow and blue banners, some decorated with the words "Shadary President". Soda bottles were piled up in a corner while the Kabila government coalition made the check-out of that day at a nearby hotel.
A few hours after the polls closed on December 30th, the parties programmed in the gardens were suddenly canceled.
While the results came from observers and thousands of electronic voting machines, it became clear to Kabila camp that opposition leader Martin Fayulu had won with a decisive margin, diplomats and Congolese sources with direct knowledge of the events.
In Kabila's squad, confusing discussions began about designing a victory for Shadary, a former interior minister or another opposition candidate who might be willing to protect the political and financial interests of Kabila and his associates. said the sources.
A week later, the electoral commission announced that the elections had been won by Felix Tshisekedi. Fayulu said he was the victim of fraud and the Catholic Church, which had a team of 40,000 men of election observers, rejected the official result.
Assistants to Kabila, who succeeded his father in 2001, and Tshisekedi denied that there was any tampering with the election results, as did the head of the commission charged with overseeing the survey.
"The results are those we announced," said Corneille Nangaa, president of the National Independent Electoral Commission. "The rest is politics and useless speculation".
Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, an adviser to Kabila, rejected allegations of fraud as "pure speculation" and Jean-Pierre Kambila, deputy chief of Kabila's staff, denied that the presidential camp ever thought about trying to vote favor of Shadary.
"This is pure imagination," he said. "These are (accusations from) people who have lost and do not want to accept reality.
But a Congolese source, who was in direct contact with senior government officials and members of the electoral commission as the debate unfolded, told Reuters that Kabila and his advisers immediately realized that the game was over.
"Shadary's defeat was so blatant that not even the most sophisticated rigging would turn the results into his favor," he said. "This is where Plan B: Felix President comes in."
FEAR OF VIOLENCE
Kabila's helpers feared that a victory for Shadary could provoke a violent backlash from opposition supporters who rule in Kinshasa, the capital, and in several eastern regions of the Congo, source of much of the country's vast mineral wealth.
A Tshisekedi victory, on the other hand, would be more likely to get international approval and could help keep the opposition divided, the source said.
The allegations of electoral fraud are not new to the elections in the Congo. The foreign powers have neglected the alleged irregularities in the past in order to ensure relative stability in a country where two wars in the 1990s and in the early 2000s have sucked up other regional armies.
But the scope of the alleged cheating in the December elections has fueled the fear that the long delay of the vote, which should have led to the first democratic transfer of the power of the Congo in 59 years of independence, could degenerate into a renewed street fighting or a regional conflict.
The African Union and the Southern African Development Community have organized emergency meetings in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday to discuss the elections. The African Union asked to postpone the final results, citing "serious doubts" about their credibility. But the Congolese government rejected the call on Friday.
The US government, which has already sanctioned a number of senior officials in Kabila, has declared that it will hold those who undermine the democratic process accountable.
Fayulu – which was supported by the two fiercest political rivals of Kabila, Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moise Katumbi – defined the result as a "coup" and presented a request to the constitutional court. The court would have to rule on the case by Saturday.
A member of the Fayulu camp shared the figures with Reuters who said he was leaked from the electoral commission's server and showed his candidate with 59.4% of the votes, compared to just under 19% for both Tshisekedi and for Shadary.
The figures were similar to those contained in a report by the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church in the Congo, seen by Reuters, which was based on the results gathered by its observers.
None of the series of figures is complete and Reuters is not able to authenticate them independently.
"WE CAN ALWAYS CHEAT"
Following the 2006 and 2011 elections, the Congolese authorities introduced the electronic voting machines for the latest survey.
Opposition feared that the machines would be used to make the vote, but the government said it was a more efficient way to collect and pass votes in the country of 80 million people.
The voters placed their selections on similar devices to the iPad, which were equipped with sim cards that allowed to transmit the final stories via mobile networks to the electoral organizers in Kinshasa as soon as the polls were closed.
The government ordered cuts in Internet services on the morning of December 31, saying that this was necessary to preserve public order after "fictitious results" began to circulate on social media.
But at that time, the numbers had reached Kinshasa by most of the over 60,000 polling stations, three Congolese sources and three diplomats informed by electoral officials.
The coalition of Kabila, the Common Front for the Congo, also had observers recording the results at individual polling stations and sending them via telephone, e-mail or texting for counting at a Kinshasa hotel.
In the early hours of December 31, their figures showed that Shadary was losing heavily with Fayulu.
"He's beating us everywhere," a coalition official wrote in a message seen by Reuters. "We do not organize elections to lose them, we can always cheat."
Two diplomatic sources have reported that an official of the electoral commission has reported to some foreign envoys of Kinshasa of the victory of Fayulu within a few days of the vote, but said that it is too dangerous for the body to announce it.
Two other diplomats said that the committee officials clarified that Shadary had lost, but said he had not been informed of the winner.
"The government did not immediately abandon the Shadary option, but they understood that it would be very difficult to get the people to accept Shadar's victory," said a diplomat based in Kinshasa.
"SEMINAL ROLE" FOR KABILA
Representatives of Kabila sought an agreement with the Tshisekedi team, Kinshasa diplomats and Congolese sources said.
An agreement was reached, they said, according to which Tshisekedi would be president, Kabila would have been guaranteed protection for himself, his family and his assets, and his supporters would have maintained significant control over the parliament and the apparatus. financial and security.
"What is certain is that Kabila will maintain a fundamental role", said a senior official of the Congolese government.
The Tshisekedi and Kabila camps deny that such an agreement has been reached.
But Fayulu supporters question how members of the Kabila coalition have won over 70 percent of the votes in provincial and national legislative elections when official results show that their candidate, Shadary, won only 24 percent in the vote presidential.
Senior officials have instructed Nangaa, the head of the electoral commission, to assign the vote to Tshisekedi, two officials of the Congolese government have told Reuters. Denying this, Nangaa told Reuters no one put him under pressure to change the results.
Kabila's loyalists, especially in the army, did not trust Tshisekedi and wanted Shadary to be named president. They presented their concerns to Kabila's assistants at a meeting on January 9, hours before official results were announced at the beginning of January 10, said a business man with access to the presidency and an official of the Western security in contact with the Congolese army.
They said that Kabila's helpers assured loyalists that they would keep their positions and that their interests would be protected.
David Lewis reported by Nairobi and Aaron Ross from Dakar; Additional reports by Ryan McNeill in London and Joori Roh in Seoul; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Timothy Heritage