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Tension rises in Congo as election results delayed

December 6, 2011 |  2:27 pm

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The release of election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo will be delayed 48 hours, state television announced late Tuesday, fueling tension in a controversial contest that many fear will lead to violent protests.

The legal deadline for the release of results was midnight Tuesday, when incumbent President Joseph Kabila's mandate expired.

The delay is another shortfall in an election marked by chaos and accusations of fraud. Polling materials arrived so late in some areas that voting had to be extended to three days, followed by long delays in centralizing vote tallies.

Partial results showed a likely victory for Kabila, who was leading his closest rival, Etienne Tshisekedi, with 46% of the vote to 36%.

Tshisekedi's supporters had already questioned the legitimacy of the election and are likely to take to the streets in protest once results are released. Security has been tightened in the capital in anticipation of violence.

An international diplomatic mission has met with Kabila and Tshisekedi to urge peace and warn against a slide back into disastrous conflict, with the country still recovering from a civil war that officially ended in 2003 and killed millions.

The opposition has complained that last week's election was not only disorganized but also fraudulent, saying it lacks faith in an electoral commission dominated by allies of the president. The government's delay in releasing vote counts from individual polling stations has raised further doubt about the vote's credibility.

Kabila became increasingly unpopular as his decade in office did little to improve the lives of the Congolese people, more than 60% of whom live in poverty despite some of the richest mineral resources on Earth.

But the advantages of incumbency and changes to the voting system will likely see Kabila retain office. The new voting system means he can win with less than 50% of the vote. In most African countries, if no one wins more than 50%, the two top candidates go to a runoff, which means the anti-incumbent vote can unite around one opposition candidate.

The opposition candidate is popular in Kinshasa, the capital, where it is feared that violence could explode in the days after the results are announced. There are also fears of violence in other parts of the country, including the city of Lubumbashi in southern Katanga province, another Tshisekedi stronghold.


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 Photo: Congolese riot police stand guard Tuesday on the streets on Goma in preparation for possible violence after the government announced that results from last week's election would be delayed until Thursday. Credit: Simon Maina / AFP/Getty Images