Congo’s Katumbi says election should be annulled as opposition plans protest

By Yassin Kombi and Sonia Rolley

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -Moise Katumbi, one of the main opposition candidates in Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election has added his voice to calls for the Dec. 20 vote to be annulled because of “massive fraud,” a statement from his campaign said on Saturday.

Katumbi’s campaign added in the statement that the head of Congo’s national election commission should resign because the commission had participated in a planned “electoral fraud.”

“In this face of this unacceptable situation, we are calling for the immediate annulment of this chaotic election tainted by massive fraud,” the statement said.

Katumbi’s statement came as another group of opposition candidates who had called for a rerun of the election on Wednesday, wrote to the governor of the capital Kinshasa to say they will hold a joint protest next week over the election.

Katumbi is not among those who called for the protest, but his team told Reuters earlier on Saturday they support any constitutional initiative aimed at resisting another electoral robbery in Congo.

Election disputes often fuel unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo and risk further destabilising a country with globally important reserves of cobalt and copper, and which is battling widespread poverty and an eastern security crisis.

In a sign of growing concern over the aftermath of the election, 13 embassies in Kinshasa, including those of Germany and France, released a joint statement on Saturday calling for restraint.

“As the vote counting continues, we urge all stakeholders, especially political actors, candidates and their supporters, to exercise restraint, allow the process to unfold, and raise their concerns peacefully,” they said.

Delays during Wednesday’s election led to an extension of voting, which some opposition candidates and independent observers said compromises the credibility of the vote.

Five presidential candidates plan to hold the protest in the capital on Dec. 27, according to a Dec. 22 letter to the Kinshasa governor shared on social media platform X by Jean-Marc Kabunda, a representative of candidate Martin Fayulu.

The letter said they would protest alleged irregularities during the vote and the extension, which “sufficiently demonstrate that on Dec. 20, 2023, the elections were a sham.”

Congo’s election commission known as CENI, has acknowledged there were delays on Dec. 20 that meant some polling stations failed to open, but denied the credibility of the election was compromised by extending some voting.

Full provisional election results are expected by Dec. 31, with daily updates released from Saturday. These results will determine whether incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi or one of his 18 challengers won the vote.

The chaotic election day capped a fraught campaign in which at least 19 people were killed in election-related violence and the opposition and observers warned of widespread issues they said would enable fraud. CENI and the presidency denied this.

In a sign of further electoral setbacks, local authorities in eastern Lubero territory told Reuters voting had still not taken place in five small centres that are accessible only by air or foot, because rain had delayed the delivery of election materials.

Voting there is now expected to be held on Sunday if couriers walk through the night, said Paluku Maker, an official for Bapere sector.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Bate Felix; Editing by Alexander Smith, David Holmes and Chris Reese)