Election monitors from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have said the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) presidential election “went relatively well” despite chaotic scenes that prevented many from voting.
The qualified endorsement from the regional body on Wednesday countered allegations by opposition candidates that the December 30 vote was marred by widespread irregularities.
Approval of the election’s results by SADC powers like South Africa and Angola will be critical for the legitimacy of the administration of the next president, who will succeed incumbent Joseph Kabila on January 18.
Pre-election polling showed Kabila’s preferred candidate, ex-interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, trailing the main opposition candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, but both sides say they expect to win.
The election is meant to lead to Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in 59 years of independence. But more than a million Congolese in opposition strongholds were prevented from voting due to an Ebola outbreak, local factional conflict and various logistical problems.
“Taking into account the range of challenges posed by these elections, the [mission] observed that the elections … were relatively well-managed,” the SADC mission said in its statement.
The election allowed “the majority of the Congolese population to exercise its right to vote”.
Provisional results are expected on January 6, with the final outcome on January 15.
On Monday, the authorities cut off internet cross the vast central African country in an apparent effort by the government to prevent social media speculation about the results of the vote.
Meanwhile, Radio France International said on Wednesday the government had revoked the accreditation of one of its journalists and cut off the station’s broadcasts.
Confirming the move, Lambert Mende, a spokesperson for the government, accused the station of stirring up controversy. He said its journalist, Florence Morice, had violated electoral laws.
“We are not going to let a radio station throw petrol on the flames at a time when we are waiting for the compilation of the provisional results,” Mende said.
RFI said its coverage had been impartial.
Also on Wednesday, an African Union observer mission said that election day, which also included votes for national and provincial assembly members, was peaceful yet blighted by a number of logistical problems.
“The holding of these elections constitutes, in itself, a first great victory for the Congolese people,” it said in a statement.
“The mission strongly wishes that the results that will be declared are true to the vote of the Congolese people.”
Kabila’s government refused to accredit election monitors from the European Union and the US-based Carter Center, which said there were widespread irregularities in the 2011 election.
Contested election results in 2006 and 2011 led to violent street protests, and a disputed outcome this time could also destabilise Congo’s volatile eastern borderlands with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, where dozens of militia groups are active.