Congo's president, seeking a second term in a nation reeling from poverty and pummeled by war, was leading Saturday in early results, but his opponents insisted he step aside and accused him of trying to engineer "carnage."
President Joseph Kabila had 50.3 percent of the vote in early results from an election marred by technical problems and accusations of favoritism. Analysts had predicted he would likely win because the opposition candidates are splitting the vote.
In a show of unity, the 10 opposition parties held a press conference and accused Kabila of attempting to engineer a situation like Kenya, Zimbabwe or the Ivory Coast, all countries where rulers used the army to try to silence dissent and cling to power after losing at the polls.
"I think that Joseph Kabila could go down in history ... if he were to say, 'I'm a good sport and I lost,'" said opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe, a former speaker of Parliament. "He is preparing a carnage."
International observers noted irregularities including possible instances of fraud, but most said the shortcomings seemed to be due to technical glitches rather than a systematic attempt to rig the vote.
Due to bad weather, planes carrying ballots did not take off in time to reach the remote interior of this gigantic nation, which stretches over a territory as large as Western Europe.
Monday's vote had to be extended for three days in order to give porters carrying ballots on their heads, on bicycles, in canoes and in wheelbarrows to reach the distant corners of Congo.
Election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda released province by province tallies Saturday he said amounted to 33 percent of all voting bureaus, showing that Kabila was ahead with 3.27 million of the 6.48 million votes counted so far. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi was trailing with 2.23 million votes, or 34.4 percent.
The gap between them is sure to close when results from Kinshasa are released, where poll workers in the four warehouses processing votes were visibly overwhelmed.
Sacks of ballots were being brought in on the backs of poll workers; there were so many they were being piled in the parking lot outside. Some had split open, and ballots had fallen into the mud or the cement floor of the warehouse, where they were being trampled by election workers.
As of Friday, less than 5 percent of the ballots in one of the four warehouses had been processed, said a poll worker who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press. The election official complained they were not being brought food or even water, and several of the poll workers were asleep, splayed out across tables with bags of ballots piled up around them.
The results released from Kinshasa represent only 3.33 percent of the capital's precincts, said Mulunda. In the small sample that was released, Tshisekedi had so far received roughly twice as many votes as Kabila, nearly 43,000 compared to the 23,000 cast for the incumbent. Over 3 million voters are registered in Kinshasa, so it's possible that Tshisekedi will be able to catch up once the capital's tallies are in.
Still, the opposition has clearly been hurt by its inability to unite behind a single candidate. In the results released so far, nearly a million votes had been cast for the nine opposition candidates besides the 78-year-old Tshisekedi. That's roughly equal to the gap now separating Tshisekedi from Kabila.
The opposition leaders said they are seeking a group of "African sages," to act as mediators in order to tell Kabila to step aside.
"We know who lost. We know who won," said Kamerhe. "We are asking the sages of Africa ... to go tell their counterpart, change is not the end of the world. You can come back in 10 years, 15 years. But leave the nation of Congo in peace. Because it's not worth burning Congo for one person," he said.
Tshisekedi's supporters on Saturday attacked the car of a team of foreign correspondents, accusing the international community of propping up Kabila in order to help him win re-election. Hotels were emptying out on Saturday as expatriates left the country ahead of what is expected to be a violent week.
(This version CORRECTS Deletes repetition of word `giant.' Corrects age of Tshisekedi to 78 instead of 79. His birthday is next week.)