Congo leader's party loses 45 percent of its seats

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2012 6:44 AM
Congo leader's party loses 45 percent of its seats

President Joseph Kabila's party has lost 45 percent of the legislative seats it held before November elections that were denounced as fraudulent and chaotic, according to belated results announced Thursday by Congo's electoral commission.

Kabila still will command a majority in parliament, where his coalition of several parties has won about 260 of the 500 seats, down from more than 300 in the previous assembly.

Officials from the discredited electoral commission announced the last of the winning legislators Thursday in results it has issued piecemeal and following a suspension of the count from the Nov. 28 balloting.

An Associated Press count shows Kabila's party winning at least 61 seats, down from 111. Etienne Tshisekedi's opposition party is in second place with 41 seats. Tshisekedi has called the elections "rubbish" and declared he won the presidential vote claimed by Kabila.

Thursday's results do not include 17 seats in the south and east of the country where the commission canceled the elections because of violence and fraud.

Presidential and legislative elections were held the same day. Presidential results showed Kabila winning 100 percent of votes at some balloting stations, and more than 100 percent of registered voters participating at other stations where he won.

Congo's Supreme Court said it has received 30 appeals against legislative results. Many opposition leaders have said it is useless to appeal to the court, which Kabila pumped up with his supporters from seven to 27 judges before the elections.

The parliamentary results will make it more difficult for Kabila to pass legislation and the kind of constitutional reforms that he pushed through the assembly last year, including one that helped him win the election. The reform did away with a two-round system for the presidency that required a candidate to win at least 50 percent of votes. There were reports that large bribes were paid to legislators who passed the reforms.

The commission said Kabila won with nearly 49 percent of votes.

Among those who lost seats in parliament are at least eight Cabinet ministers and a provincial governor who all supported Kabila. But Kabila's twin sister and a younger brother both were re-elected.

Some 19,000 candidates from 450 parties ran in the legislative elections.

Fewer parliament seats could weaken Kabila's control over the sprawling nation the size of Western Europe, especially in the mineral-rich east where foreign rebels and local fighters terrorize civilians.

Dozens of people were killed in election-related violence before, during and after the voting. Angry voters set ablaze some balloting stations where they charged officials were rigging the vote count and stuffing ballot boxes. Millions of voters were unable to cast ballots, hundreds of thousands of ballots were tampered with and 1.3 million completed ballots went missing.

When protests erupted after Kabila was announced the winner, soldiers were deployed and attacked crowds of protesters, effectively cowing the opposition. Tshisekedi is under effective house arrest since he held his own ceremony to install himself as president.

Powerful Catholic bishops have now called for Congolese to stage mass protests against the election results on Feb. 16. The last time Catholic leaders ordered such protests, they led to unrest that, together with a rebellion, helped force longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from power in 1997.

Congo then suffered back-to-back civil wars that drew in the armies of a half dozen African nations in what ballooned into a scramble for the country's vast mineral reserves. A peace deal was signed in 2004 that left warlord Laurent Kabila as president.

Joseph Kabila took over after his father was assassinated and in 2006 called elections that were organized by the United Nations. The November vote was only the second democratic election in half a century in Congo, and the first organized by the government.

The European Union and the United States have questioned the presidential election results, indicating they were so flawed it was impossible to know who won. In Congo, civil society groups and religious leaders also have denounced the elections. The Catholic Church has demanded that the electoral commission, headed by a relative and co-founder of Kabila's party, review "serious errors" in its count or resign.

That commission chief, the Rev. Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, said Thursday the results had been long in coming because they wanted "to ensure their overall transparency."

In the uproar after the presidential results were announced, the U.S. sent electoral experts to try to salvage results of the legislative elections. They left in disgust saying it was an impossible mission.

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Associated Press writer Michelle Faul in Johannesburg contributed to this report.