Kabila claims early lead in Congo election

Preliminary results from Congo’s presidential election show incumbent Joseph Kabila leading opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, although the country’s election chief warned only a small percentage of precincts had been counted.

KINSHASA, Congo — Preliminary results from Congo’s presidential election show incumbent Joseph Kabila leading opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, although the country’s election chief warned only a small percentage of precincts had been counted.

With around 15 per cent of votes tallied, Kabila leads with over 1,52 million, around 52 per cent, according to results announced Friday. Tshisekedi is second among the 11 candidates with 997,074, or 34 per cent.

Election commission president Daniel Ngoy Mulunda released the early results four days after Monday’s vote, after the Election Day was extended for three days to give porters time to transport ballots from the remote corners of this giant nation.

Compiling the results was chaotic. In the capital Kinshasa, sacks of ballots brought in on the backs of poll workers piled up on grass outside the counting centre, many having split open. People trampled on the ballots which had spilled on the dirt path leading into the warehouse.

Mulunda released the first results after opposition candidate Vital Kamerhe called a press conference urging the commission to publish partial results for the sake of transparency.

Complicating procedures, fake results had been posted on the election commission’s website, said Mulunda. Young Tshisekedi supporters also weaved between cars at downtown intersections, selling a $1 sheet showing a different set of provisional results which had their choice of president in the lead.

Congo remains on edge after days of violence which left at least 18 dead and seriously wounded 100 more, with most of the deaths caused by troops loyal to Kabila, Human Rights Watch said in Friday.

The violence peaked on Saturday when tens of thousands of people descended on Kinshasa’s airport to welcome home Tshisekedi as he returned from his final campaign tour in the country’s interior. In the government crackdown that followed, at least 14 people were killed, according to the report by the New York-based rights group.

Soldiers fired into the crowd, hitting a 27-year-old mother of five in the head. Among the other victims was a 22-year-old who was shot dead while walking outside a granary near the airport. On Election Day, mobs descended on poling stations. Poll workers were beaten, and vote centres were destroyed.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende denied the accusations in the report, saying the presidential guard shot in the air.

“We are in an African city. We are Africans. And nowhere — not in (the neighbourhood of) Masina, not in the mayor’s office — no one is aware of a wake, or of a funeral. No cemetery has registered a burial. Only HRW is aware of this,” he said.

Analysts are concerned that there could be further bloodshed when the election results are announced, scheduled for next Tuesday.

Congo’s enormous territory still includes sections of the bush that are controlled by rebel groups, like in the east where the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army is known to be based.

In Oriental province near the town of Faradje, Human Rights Watch says the Lord’s Resistance Army attacked a group of voters on their way to vote. Three men were killed, and ten women were abducted. The report says that one of the women, who was six months’ pregnant, was raped. She was later released and taken to the hospital but lost her baby.

This is only the second free election in Congo’s 51-year history, and the first to be organized entirely by the government instead of by the international community. The logistical challenges are casting a cloud of doubt over the vote, and three of the 11 candidates running for president have already called for the ballot to be annulled.

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