* Opposition members say delay could be part of scheme by government to rig election

Election results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been postponed again and officials said they did not know when they would be ready.

The country’s electoral commission (Ceni) said on Sunday that tally sheets were trickling in slowly and so it would not be possible to release the results as scheduled. Corneille Nangaa, the head of Ceni, said: “We ask the nation to remain patient for the time it will take to consolidate all our data.”

Opposition members and observers had said that releasing the results late could be part of a scheme by the Congolese government to rig the election. Although President Joseph Kabila could not stand again, having already served his constitutionally mandated two terms and been in power since 2001, his handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, is widely seen as a puppet, there to hold the reins until 2023 when Kabila may run again.

On Friday, Donald Trump said 80 US military personnel had been deployed to Gabon “in response to the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in reaction to the 30 December 2018 elections there”.

In a letter to congressional leaders the US president said the personnel were there to protect US citizens and the embassy, but also “in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests”, adding that they would be there until the DRC’s security situation looked stable enough that they were not needed – and that more could be deployed if necessary. On Thursday the US threatened sanctions against those who tried to undermine democracy or threatened peace and stability.

The Catholic church, a powerful body in the DRC, warned on Saturday of a possible uprising if Ceni did not release provisional results that “conformed to the truth of the polls”.

The church had previously claimed that there was a clear winner of the election and called on Ceni to release the “true” results, signalling – though not saying outright – that Shadary had lost. Polling just before the election indicated that the opposition candidate Martin Fayulu was in the lead by a wide margin.

A government spokesman, Lambert Mende, said the church could go to the courts if it was not satisfied with the results released by the electoral commission. “We’re not in the Vatican here, we’re in the Congo, and there’s a law that determines how things are done,” he said.

On Friday, Kabila met the church’s secretary general, Donatien Nshole, and a delegation of priests. According to Nshole, Kabila said he wanted to “leave the country united and peaceful”.

A host of irregularities and the suppression of voting rights were detailed in a Human Rights Watch report published on Saturday. The group pointed out that many polling stations across Kinshasa had abruptly closed, preventing people from voting, while others had opened late, and voters had had trouble using new electronic machines, thousands of which were burned shortly before the election in an alleged arson attack. The government has not denied that it has effected an internet shutdown.

Observers were also blocked from many polling stations and armed men coerced people in North Kivu province to vote for Shadary, HRW said.

Ida Sawyer, the deputy director of HRW’s Africa division, called on South Africa to exert serious diplomatic pressure on the DRC leadership “to ensure real election results are published”. The African Union and Southern African Development Community are on the ground but have yet to make strong statements; the latter called the election “well managed and smooth”.

The eastern cities of Beni and Butembo were not allowed to vote in the election – their “poll” will take place in March, after the announcement of the winner, thus disenfranchising more than a million voters. At least 43 people were arrested in demonstrations in Beni in the past week, according to the UN radio station Radio Okapi.

According to African Confidential, among the thousands of troops newly deployed to Kinshasa’s streets are many former members of the Rwanda-backed M23, a rebel group accused of committing many war crimes including rape, execution and recruiting child soldiers. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame is said to support Kabila’s choice of Shadary because he believes it the best way to control the conflict on the countries’ shared border.

Culled from theguardian.com

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