Observers: Congo election lacks credibility

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2011 8:32 AM
Observers: Congo election lacks credibility

The results from Congo's election which handed victory to the country's president of 10 years lack credibility, said one of the major observation missions.

The Atlanta-based Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter had earlier said that the vote was marred by technical shortcomings, but that there was not evidence of systematic fraud. In a statement released late Saturday, the Carter Center observers showed evidence of possible vote tampering, as well as of vote inflation in regions of the country favorable to the incumbent President Joseph Kabila, accompanied by vote suppression in areas known to be bastions of support for the opposition.

Kabila was declared the winner with 49 percent of vote. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, who finished second with 32 percent, said he rejects the results and considers himself the country's elected leader. In countries throughout Europe, Tshisekedi's supporters took to the streets, including in London, where police confirmed they have arrested 143 protesters.

Detailed province-by-province results show a pattern of "impossibly high" rates of voter turnout in places known to be strongholds of support for the 40-year-old Kabila, said a statement released by the Carter Center.

Although voter turnout throughout the country was less than 59 percent overall, in several constituencies in Katanga province turnout was 99 to 100 percent, and all, or nearly all, of the votes were cast for Kabila. Katanga was expected to vote in large numbers for Kabila because it is where his father is from. But David Pottie, one of the senior observers with the Carter Center, said it is impossible to have 100 percent voter turnout in a region where less than 2 percent of the roads are paved, and equally improbably for all the votes to go to Kabila, when there were 11 candidates on the ballot.

At the same time that authorities were vigilant in counting ballots in Katanga, they showed little interest in compiling results in opposition strongholds like the capital.

Even though Kinshasa has the best roads in the country and the best telephone network, results from more than 2,000 of the city's 10,000 polling stations were simply lost in the tabulation process, representing 350,000 votes. The reason was never explained by election officials, and could be a result of poor organization or logistical shortcomings.

After last Monday's vote, millions of ballots were brought on the backs of trucks and dumped outside warehouses. Some of the sacks in which the ballots were sealed split open, and ballots fell in the mud. The bags holding sensitive voting material were stockpiled outside, exposed to the elements, as poll workers struggled to enter the data.

Observers said that after a rain storm, result forms were found hanging on sticks to dry.

In its statement, the Carter Center says that it is not clear if these irregularities were widespread enough to have changed the race's outcome, as Tshisekedi claims. His party has insisted that Tshisekedi, not Kabila, won the election.

"This assessment does not propose that the final order of candidates is necessarily different than announced by (the election commission), only that the results process is not credible," the statement said.

Congo is holding only its second democratic vote in its 51-year history. It's the first free election that is being organized by the government, following the 2006 vote which was handled by the United Nations.

Although a few flights took off, most international airlines continued to suspend their flights to Congo, as violence was feared. Over the weekend, the capital's two four-star hotels were unable to provide room service, because their employees could not get to work, due to unrest. Bus operators have pulled their fleets off the highways after angry opposition supporters barricaded streets, set tires on fire and torched over a dozen cars.


Associated Press Writer Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report from London.