Democratic Republic of Congo’s Catholic church said on Thursday it was clear which candidate won the country’s presidential election, and demanded that the electoral commission publish accurate results.
The church, one of Congo’s most trusted institutions and representing about 40 percent of its 80 million population, based its finding on tallies from more than 40,000 observers it deployed for the Dec. 30 poll, meant to mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
The church’s bishops conference, known as CENCO, did not say which candidate had won.
But if CENCO’s count points to a victory for an opposition candidate, it could set up a standoff with outgoing President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition, which has insisted its man is poised to win.
The CENCO mission and another domestic observer group, SYMOCEL, both said in reports on Thursday they witnessed widespread irregularities on election day, though they did not allege outright fraud.
The electoral commission had been scheduled to publish provisional results on Sunday, but it said on Thursday that could be delayed because counting centres are still waiting for 80 percent of local vote tallies.
The opposition says the delay could be used to manipulate vote totals.
Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende defended its handling of the election, saying public safety concerns justified a decision to cancel voting in the Ebola-hit cities of Beni and Butembo, and cutting internet access until the results were known was intended to stop the spread of false news about the outcome.
The vote, meant to choose a successor to long-term leader Kabila, had been repeatedly delayed since 2016 when his mandate officially expired. Those delays sparked violent protests in which security forces killed dozens of people.
Pre-election polling showed ex-interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Kabila’s preferred candidate, trailing the main opposition candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi. Both Shadary and the opposition say they expect to win.
The CENCO mission “observes that the figures in its possession from polling stations’ vote tallies reveal the choice of one candidate as president of the republic,” its secretary-general Donatien Nshole told reporters.
“We call on the CENI … to publish, with all responsibility, the results of the election that respect truth and justice.”