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Congo Elections: Church Official Questions Results

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CONGO ELECTIONS CHURCH
ongolese run from tear gas in the pro-Tshisekedi Matete commune in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Friday Dec. 9, 2011, after the electoral commission declared Congolese president Joseph Kabila the winner. Congo's President Joseph Kabila won another term in office, the election commission said Friday, defeating the main opposition candidate whose supporters vowed to take to the streets. Plumes of smoke smudged the skyline as tires were burned outside tabulation centers. (AP Photo/Jerome | AP

KINSHASA, Congo — The chorus of voices calling into question the results from Congo's recent election is growing louder, and on Monday the country's influential clergy as well as the United Nations joined those that are now casting doubt on the victory of President Joseph Kabila.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the head of the influential Catholic Church in Congo, broke his silence to voice his concern. The church, which had deployed the largest observation mission, had earlier refused to disclose the results that their observers had tabulated, saying that their role was not political.

"After analyzing the results that were made public by the (election commission) this past Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, we could not help but conclude that the results are not founded on truth or justice," said Monsengwo on Monday.

He said that the church was willing to mediate the dispute between Kabila, who has been in power for 10 years and who was declared the winner of the November election with 49 percent of the vote, and longtime opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, came in a distant second with 32 percent of the nearly 19 million votes cast.

Just 24 hours after the results were published, U.S. observers from the Atlanta-based Carter Center founded by former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement saying that the vote lacked credibility.

The country's election commission, which is led by a pastor believed to be close to the incumbent, had been under pressure to release results polling station by polling station so that candidates and election monitors could check the numbers being published against what observers had witnessed.

The commission didn't do so immediately, instead releasing preliminary results province by province, amalgamating thousands of voting sites.

It was not until Friday, the day that the final provisional results were released, that the commission gave out a CD-ROM to foreign embassies and to observation missions.

David Pottie, a senior observer with the Carter Center, said that in analyzing the detailed results, it became clear that in Kabila's home province, voter turnout was impossibly high, including some districts where 100 percent of registered voters had cast ballots, an impossibility in this enormous country where less than 2 percent of the roads are paved. In these same districts in Katanga Province, all – or nearly all – of the votes were cast for the 40-year-old Kabila, an equally unlikely prospect given that 11 candidates were in the race, said Pottie.

Also on Monday, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, known by its acronym MONUSCO, issued a statement voicing concern.

"MONUSCO notes with deep concern the findings of these observer missions relating to the significant irregularities in the management of the results process, in particular the counting and tabulation of the votes," it said. "MONUSCO strongly urges the Independent National Electoral Commission to undertake a timely and rigorous review of the issues identified by observer missions."

In his first public comments since the start of the election, Kabila told reporters on Monday that there is no reason to doubt the validity of the election.

"The credibility of these elections cannot be put into doubt. Were there mistakes, errors? Definitely," he said. "Definitely. Like in any other election – be it on the continent, or otherwise. But does it put into doubt the credibility of the elections? I don't think so."

While Kabila, controls the army, the 78-year-old opposition leader Tshisekedi controls the street, where he enjoys enormous popularity among the country's impoverished masses. Violence is feared if Tshisekedi orders his supporters to demonstrate. In a telephone interview over the weekend, he said that he was holding off as he waits to see if the international community is able to find a solution to the electoral crisis.

He also said that he rejects the results that were published, and considers himself the newly elected president. Already in London, over 130 people were arrested over the weekend after Tshisekedi supporters living in Britain led boisterous demonstrations, including a group that stormed the subway, pulling the alarms and causing one of the lines to be temporarily closed.

Although Tshisekedi has said he would not accept a Kenya- or Zimbabwe-style deal, diplomats that have seen him recently say he is looking for a concession from Kabila, possibly the post of speaker of parliament.

Monsengwo said there must be dialogue to avoid a grave crisis in the country and called on all to avoid violence.

"Since the results are provisional and must be confirmed by the Supreme Court, we ask the protesters to appeal, to resort to legal means and to not engage in violence," he said.

The November election was only the second democratic vote in Congo's 51-year history, and the first to be organized by the government rather than by the international community. From the start the vote was plagued by massive technical glitches, including the late arrival of ballots, some of which arrived three days after the vote was supposed to take place.