U.N. divided over how to react to Congo’s election problems

DAKAR (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council is divided over how to react to Democratic Republic of Congo’s tumultuous presidential election, according to an internal report seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Officials from Congo’s Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) count presidential elections ballots at tallying centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The United States also condemned a lack of transparency in last Sunday’s contest, while China, a major investor, lauded the process.

The election to pick a successor to President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country of 80 million people since his father was assassinated in 2001, should mark the first democratic transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

But tensions have risen since the vote after observers reported a litany of irregularities that the opposition says is part of the ruling party’s effort to steal it.

Worried that the dispute could spark the kind of violence seen after the 2006 and 2011 elections, the Security Council met on Friday to discuss how to react.

“Tensions were mounting while the CENI tabulated the results, notably in light of posturing by parties and candidates,” Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo, told the meeting, according to the internal report.

But the 15 council members “differed in their appreciation of the problems that beset the process and were divided over the question of whether the Council should issue a press statement,” the report went on to say.

A negative or cautionary international reaction could be problematic for Kabila whose government has defended the election’s organization, and could weaken the legitimacy of Kabila’s hand picked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, should he be declared winner.

INFLAME THE SITUATION

In Saturday’s meeting, France pushed for the publication of a statement that recognized that Congo’s election allowed people to exercise their democratic right and called for calm, but criticized the government’s decision to cut access to the Internet and some media outlets.

The United States, which has threatened to impose sanctions against those who undermine the election process and has deployed troops to Gabon in case its citizens need rescuing from any violence, backed the statement, alongside Britain, Ivory Coast, Belgium and others.

South Africa, long a Kabila ally, said the statement could “inflame” the situation if issued before the results, the report said. Russia said it could be seen as an attempt to skew public opinion. China “lauded the manner in which elections were conducted”, the report said, and said a statement should not be published before the results.

Initial results were expected on Sunday but the electoral board (CENI) said they could be delayed because vote counts were slow in arriving.

The opposition, represented by its two main candidates Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, and the ruling coalition say their candidates have won.

Congo’s Catholic church body, CENCO, said this week that it had identified the victor based on its own tallies collected by 40,000 observers, though it did not name the winner. The declaration was widely seen as a warning to authorities against rigging the vote.

Reporting By Aaron Ross, Writing by Edward McAllister, Editing by Angus MacSwan



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