Congo's supreme court on Friday upheld President Joseph Kabila's victory following a contested election, raising fears of more violence in sub-Saharan Africa's largest nation because the main opposition candidate already has rejected the results showing he placed second.
The November election was only the second democratic vote in Congo's 51-year history, and the first to be organized by the Congolese government rather than by the international community. Observers have expressed concern about irregularities, saying voter turnout results were impossibly high in some districts.
Kabila, Congo's incumbent president, had faced 10 candidates, including Etienne Tshisekedi, a 79-year-old longtime opposition leader who is enormously popular with the country's impoverished masses. Observers fear unrest if Tshisekedi orders his supporters to take to the streets. So far, Tshisekedi has called for calm, telling his supporters to await his instructions.
Another opposition candidate, Vital Kamerhe, had appealed to Congo's supreme court to annul the presidential vote, but the court said late Friday that his complaint was groundless and lacked sufficient evidence. The decision was announced by Justice Jerome Kitoko, the court's vice president.
Kabila first came to power after his father's assassination and now has led the massive, mineral-rich Central African nation for a decade. Results released one week ago showed he had 49 percent of the vote, and Tshisekedi had 32 percent of the nearly 19 million votes cast.
Just 24 hours after those results were published, U.S. observers from the Atlanta-based Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement saying the vote lacked credibility.
David Pottie, one of the senior observers with the Carter Center, said it was impossible to have 100 percent voter turnout in a region where less than 2 percent of the roads are paved, and equally improbable for all the votes to go to Kabila, when there were 11 candidates on the ballot.
Country experts and opposition leaders originally had urged the government to delay the vote due to massive logistical problems. Instead, the poll went ahead although it was extended by several days so that more voters could cast ballots.
Congo sprawls across an area the size of Western Europe in the heart of Africa and neighbors nine other countries. Some districts of Congo, which suffered decades of dictatorship and two civil wars, are so remote that ballot boxes had to be transported across muddy trails on the heads of porters, and by dugout canoe across churning rivers.
The election took place amid significant unrest in Congo's east, where dozens of militia groups and rebels continue to terrorize people. Government soldiers and rebels have brutally raped women, men and children, and burned down villages. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes because of violence.
The fighting is fueled by the competition to control mines, many operated by soldiers, rebels and militiamen who use the minerals to fund their armed groups.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects Tshisekedi's age to 79 to reflect his birthday this week.)