Preliminary results issued by Congo's electoral commission make it all but certain that President Joseph Kabila will be declared the winner of the recent presidential election, setting the stage for civil unrest as the opposition continued to insist they will reject the results.
Supporters of longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi have vowed to take to the streets if Kabila is declared the winner.
"We do not take into account these results. We reject them ... There is nothing credible about them, nothing serious," said Jacquemain Shabani, the secretary-general of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress party. "It's impossible that tomorrow Kabila will be officially declared president."
Just before midnight Tuesday, election commission chief Daniel Ngoy Mulunda announced that the commission will require another 48 hours to issue the final provisional results. The delay, he said, is due to the fact that tally sheets from numerous provinces have still not been turned in. Helicopters were dispatched to try to collect them in this vast, largely roadless central African nation.
With 89.2 percent of precincts counted, Kabila was leading with 8.3 million out of the 17.3 million votes, or 48 percent. Tshisekedi was trailing with 5.9 million votes, or 34 percent. The results were published Wednesday on the website of a United Nations-backed broadcaster, Radio Okapi.
The threat of unrest hung over the capital, Kinshasa, and international airlines canceled their flights. The United States Embassy ordered its staff and their families not to leave their homes until further notice. Anxious residents queued at the port, waiting for water taxis to take them across the massive river separating Kinshasa from Brazzaville _ the capital of Congo's neighbor to the north, the smaller Republic of Congo.
Last week's voting was marred by technical glitches, including the late delivery of ballots, some of which didn't reach polling stations until three days after the vote was supposed to take place. Even though it was clear that the election commission was not prepared for last week's ballot, the government rushed ahead with the election because the current president's five-year term expired Tuesday at midnight.
The 48-hour delay means that Kabila will be staying in office past his legal mandate. Analysts say the country could slide into a situation of unconstitutional power which could stoke tension in Congo.
"As we haven't yet been able to receive the tally sheets from all 60,000 polling stations in the country, we decided to push back the publication by 48 hours," Matthieu Mpita, the spokesman of the National Independent Electoral Commission said late Tuesday. At nearly midnight on Wednesday, the commission issued a statement saying they had succeeded in tabulating more than 90 percent of precincts.
"Given this positive evolution, the office believes it is a few hours away from reaching the goal of 100 percent of receipt of provisional returns," said the statement.
The commission "invites the public to calmly await the publication of provisional results tomorrow, Dec. 8," it added.
Congo is staging only its second democratic election and the process has been flawed at every step, from the late printing and delivery of ballots, to the chaotic counting centers where trucks were dumping containers filled with ballots and frequent power cuts interrupted the entry of data.
Election violence has already left at least 18 dead and more than 100 wounded, with most of the deaths caused by troops loyal to Kabila, according to Human Rights Watch. Near the headquarters of the opposition party on Tuesday, police fired tear gas and blasted water cannons to disperse supporters of 78-year-old Tshisekedi, witnesses said.
Congo's back-to-back civil wars in the 1990s consumed the region. The country is ranked last on the United Nations' global survey of human development.
Although observers said they have not witnessed systematic fraud, only widespread irregularities, the impression among opposition supporters is that the vote is being manipulated in Kabila's favor.
"The people of Congo are the guardians of this electoral process," said Shabani. "And they will go to the very end to make sure that the truth of the ballot box is made known."