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Tension in the DR Congo
by Amin George Forji
2006-11-19 10:31:31
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Congo's National Electoral Commission announced that incumbent Joseph Kabila was the winner of the October 29th landmark presidential race beating his main challenger and deputy, Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel turned politician.

The results, read out by Apollinaire Malumalu, the commission's president, showed Kabila winning with a landslide of 58.05% against 41.95% for Bemba, representing 9.4 and 6.8 million votes respectively of the total cast. The Supreme Court will have to certify the results before Kabila can be sworn in on December 10th.

These elections were meant to bring stability to this mineral-rich war torn country, whose civil war (1998-2003) has seen the death of an estimated four million people, amid several atrocities. But even after the release of the results, it was still uncertain whether the country was heading towards more division or greater unity.

Despite both Kabila and Bemba pledging to accept the outcome of the results, irrespective of the winner, supporters of Bemba were quick to reject the results, citing "systematic fraud". This prompted UN peacekeepers to tighten up security around Bemba's residence and confine his fighters to military barracks, in anticipation of trouble. Fighting broke out in several parts of the capital city, Kinshasa, most of which was contained.

Kabila addressed the country on national TV and state radio hours after being declared winner, he began by first thanking those who entrusted confidence in him and promised to work for national reconciliation. Commenting on the security situation, he urged the country to remain calm, and law abiding, "This is your victory…I'm aware of the current difficulties and emergencies in all areas. Together we will complete the path to national reconciliation. I invite you all to remain calm and disciplined. The country should remain united and to live in fraternity and tolerance. The authorities have been instructed to assure peace throughout the national territory."

The Congo's presidential race of July 30th and the run-off on October 29th was an election like no other in this millennium. In fact, it was the world's most feared elections since modern times, with the UN spending $500 million and deploying a historic contingent of 17,600 peacekeepers, the largest so far by the organization to any single country, alongside 1,000 other troops from the EU, to monitor the polls.

Despite the security safeguards, tension has been very high throughout the country both before and after the polls, with uncountable number of skirmishes between rival supporters of the incumbent and frontrunner. The ballot was also unique in that it was the country's first since independence, following decades of dictatorship and civil wars. Being a complete novelty, rival heavily armed factions are still convinced it is they and not the ballots that have to determine the outcome. International observers said despite a few irregularities, the vote was largely free and fair.

With Kabila's main source of support coming from the Swahili-speaking east and Bemba's from the Lingala-speaking west, the price DR Congo may be about to pay for it's new democracy may be very high. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, speaking through a statement read by his spokesperson, praised both candidates and urged them to accept the results, saying there was evidence that the ballot was largely fair.

"The Secretary-General recalls the positive statements made by international and national election observers on the organization and conduct of the elections under the aegis of the Independent Electoral Commission," Mr. Annan's spokesman said. "He also notes that over the past few weeks the Commission has met frequently with representatives of both presidential candidates to discuss any concerns, and has looked thoroughly into allegations of irregularities in the electoral process."

The outcome remains undecided.

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