Following the long-awaited 30 December elections and to many people’s surprise, the electoral commission (CENI) announced the victory for Felix Tshisekedi, son of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who became a leading opposition figure only after his father’s death in 2017. Rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu – backed by Kabila’s major political rivals – was declared runner-up followed by Kabila’s handpicked successor Emmanuel Shadary. Congo’s body of Catholic bishops – known as CENCO – quickly stated that these results did not correspond with its own count by roughly 40,000 observers across the country. In addition, a tally by the Financial Times based on leaked voting data and the CENCO’s observations apparently showed Fayulu had won by a large margin of almost 60%. Moreover, concerns were amplified by the parliamentary poll results that were overwhelmingly won by Kabila’s Common front of the Congo (FCC) coalition, keeping legislative power and the prime minister post in incumbent ranks. The leaked data and the FCC’s parliamentary majority further fuelled rumours of a backroom deal between Tshisekedi and outgoing President Kabila, raising serious doubts over the election’s credibility.
Fayulu called for peaceful protests against the outcome and filed a complaint at the Constitutional Court to have the result overturned. The 16-nation South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, whose approval is vital for a new government’s legitimacy, initially called for a delay or recount. However, confronted with the dilemma of possibly inviting chaos by rejecting the result, regional leaders and bodies eventually responded by congratulating Tshisekedi on his victory. Moreover, on 20 January, Congo’s Constitutional Court rejected Martin Fayulu’s claims of electoral fraud after which internet services in the country were restored, having been cut off since 31 December. Four days later, on 24 January, Felix Tshisekedi was inaugurated as president, a historic moment marking Congo’s first transition of power without organised violence.
The general elections at the end of 2018 followed two years of postponements and a contentious – sometimes even violent – campaign period. According to domestic and international observers, the vote itself was also marred by irregularities. Nevertheless, Congo experienced its first transfer of power via the ballot box since its independence in 1960, despite heavy doubts over the election’s credibility. International and regional response has been mixed, although certain governments immediately expressed their concerns over the vote. Deterred by possible violent instability in case of a challenged outcome, most eventually accepted the result, including the United States. Nonetheless, today’s international isolation and targeted sanctions are likely to continue if the FCC entrenches power. Following the recent presidential inauguration, the only source that could still shift the electoral result would be massive public protests. However, mass rioting in support of presidential candidate Fayulu has not taken place over the past anxious weeks and it remains unclear whether a weighty number of people will be prepared to take to the streets and confront heavy security forces. Probably the reaction would have been more vigorous if the polls were rigged in favour of Kabila’s candidate Shadary.
The parliamentary and provincial majority win of Kabila’s FCC means the incumbent coalition will maintain decisive power over institutions and legislation which will limit Tshisekedi’s ability to follow a new policy direction. The coming weeks will show a difficult cohabitation between former political rivals and how this will be digested by the population and the international community. For now, taking into account the poor liquidity, Credendo will stick to its existing political risk classifications for Congo in highest category 7, although the outlook has cautiously improved since the risk for widespread political violence has already somewhat abated.
Analyst: Louise Van Cauwenbergh – email@example.com