Partial results issued by Congo's electoral commission overnight make it all but certain that President Joseph Kabila will be declared the winner, setting the stage for possible clashes between his backers and those loyal to the main opposition candidate.
Supporters of longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi have vowed to take to the streets if Kabila is declared the winner.
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 have been dispatched to try to collect them in this vast largely roadless central African nation.
With 89.2 percent of precincts counted, Kabila had 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.
Late Tuesday, members of Kabila's ruling party crowded inside Kinshasa's Grand Hotel for a festive celebration.
The threat of unrest hung over this troubled capital and international airlines canceled their flights. The U.S. Embassy ordered its staff and their families not to leave their homes until further notice. The American School of Kinshasa will be closed.
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," said Matthieu Mpita, the spokesman of the National Independent Electoral Commission. "It was our objective to make the deadline," he said, "but we need all the elements."
On state television, coverage of a soccer match was interrupted so a statement from the election commission announcing the 48-hour delay could be read.
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.
Over 3 million people registered to vote in the capital, Kinshasa, and observers say that only two of the four vote tabulation centers there had finished compiling results by Tuesday afternoon. Even at those two hubs, poll workers had misplaced results from hundreds of polling stations, said observers.
They were sorting through mountains of rice sacks containing ballots desperately trying to find them, said David Pottie of the Carter Center, the Atlanta-based observation mission established by former President Jimmy Carter.
Near the headquarters of the main opposition party, police fired tear gas and blasted water cannons to disperse supporters of 78-year-old Tshisekedi, witnesses said.
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.
Congo's back-to-back civil wars in the 1990s consumed the region. The country is ranked dead 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.