Opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for the annulment of the results of the recent general election over accusations of fraud, in a dispute that risks plunging the vast and mineral-rich Central African nation into new political turmoil.
Five opposition leaders, including the president’s main challenger, published a statement late Saturday accusing the country’s electoral commission of “massive fraud,” including ballot stuffing, delaying opening polling stations and falsely declaring President Felix Tshisekedi the winner in areas where they say he did not win any votes.
The five leaders — who include Moïse Katumbi, a business tycoon and the president’s closest rival — also called on the head of the commission to resign for “having planned and orchestrated the worst electoral fraud that our country has ever known.”
The results of the elections are being watched closely not only in Africa, but around the world. Congo is Africa’s second-largest nation and home to deep reserves of cobalt, which is vital in making electric cars. And the wrangling over the election’s credibility could fuel unrest in Congo, which is already dealing with an enormous security and humanitarian crisis in its eastern region.
In the election, 19 presidential candidates and 100,000 other hopefuls ran for national, regional and local assembly seats. Some 44 million people — about half of the country’s population — were registered to vote.
On Sunday, the Independent National Electoral Commission said in a statement posted on social media that it was continuing with the collection and publication of results both at home and abroad. It also said it was investigating “acts of violence, vandalism and sabotage perpetrated by certain candidates with ill intentions” against its staff, adding that “appropriate actions” would be taken against those found guilty or complicit in those acts.
The commission is expected to release the full provisional results of the election by Dec. 31. Mr. Tshisekedi, who is seeking a new five-year term, has so far been leading in the ballot count.
The dispute over the results comes after severe logistical challenges delayed the voting in parts of the country on Wednesday, leading the electoral commission to extend the voting process to Thursday.
That move was criticized by some opposition leaders and groups that promote democracy. They said the vote extension violated electoral laws and undermined the reliability of the vote, which cost $1.2 billion. Some opposition leaders said they would hold a protest on Dec. 27 in the capital, Kinshasa, to show that the election was a “sham.”
The Carter Center, which had observers monitoring the election, said in a statement on Friday that while it found the election competitive, “there was a lack of confidence in the process, stemming in part from previous elections, as well as from gaps in transparency, especially regarding the voter register.”
As tensions have been heating up, a dozen Western governments, including Canada, Germany and Britain, issued a joint statement on Saturday calling on candidates and parties “to exercise restraint” and challenge the results peacefully and by following the Constitution.