Congo’s Catholic and Protestant churches demand inquiry into election issues

By Ange Kasongo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo’s powerful Catholic bishops conference and Protestant churches on Thursday demanded an independent inquiry be opened into irregularities and alleged legal violations observed during December general elections.

Congo’s CENI election commission said on Sunday that President Felix Tshisekedi had secured more than 73% in the Dec. 20 vote. But a large group of opposition candidates say the election was fraudulent and reject the provisional results.

Hours-long delays, malfunctioning machines, and other issues led to an unscheduled extension of voting beyond Dec. 20 that independent observers said affected the credibility of the election

In a joint statement the CENCO-ECC Catholic and Protestant churches, whose thousands of independent observers flagged widespread issues on and after election day, said the CENI needed to allow an investigation.

“We ask the CENI to shed light on all the cases documented by the various stakeholders. An independent and joint commission of inquiry is necessary,” the statement said.

It said the results of the presidential and legislative vote would only be acceptable if an inquiry was set up.

Both the CENI and the government say the poll was free and fair despite an unscheduled extension of voting and other issues.

The dispute threatens to further destabilise Congo, a leading cobalt and copper producer whose development has been hampered by decades of conflict in eastern areas.

Tshisekedi’s main challengers, including businessman Moise Katumbi and former oil executive Martin Fayulu, have already ruled out mounting a legal challenge, citing a lack of faith in the independence of the courts, and urged supporters to protest.

The constitutional court has confirmed it received two formal appeals against the provisional presidential results, including one from opposition presidential candidate, Theodore Ngoyi. It must assess the appeals ahead of a Jan. 12 deadline to announce the final presidential results.

The CENCO-ECC statement urged the court to consider any allegation raised in connection with the reported election irregularities and make sure justice is rendered.

After Tshisekedi’s provisional victory was announced, the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa also called on Congolese authorities to investigate all concerns about non-compliance with electoral code procedures and fraud allegations.

(Reporting by Ange Kasongo in Kinshasa; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Sofia Christensen and Aurora Ellis)