Disorder in Kinshasa
It’s Wednesday 30 November, two days after election day. The head of this polling station, Mr Kabeya and his men are stuffing ballot papers into plastics bags. They mark them. Once everything is packed they leave in a van. No international or local observers, no witnesses of political parties.
Kabeya is angry at CENI, the organisation responsible for this election. There are no provisions made for bringing the ballots to the local assembly point. He has to pay the van out of his own pocket. We follow the van through the busy, narrow streets of Ngaliema, an affluent area of Kinshasa. We have no idea where he is going to, so we have to stay close. Not an easy ride with streets jammed, cars passing left and right and busses picking up passengers in the middle of the street.
When the van turns left through a gate, we arrive at the spot where the ballot papers of this district are gathered. At first we are not allowed in. We explain to the officials the mantra of CENI: that journalists and observers can witness everything! After some deliberation they accept our CENI accreditation card and let us in.
In the yard ballot papers are piled up seemingly without any logic: valid, non-valid, unused ballots all are mixed-up in piles. Vans arrive with more ballot papers and more empty ballot boxes. It is a chaotic sight as men start to unload the bags while policemen watch. We try to find the man responsible for the vote counting but he’s not there. Neither is the number 2,3, or 4 in charge. Number 5 is a young man, very sympathetic but poorly informed. We see no observer teams and no witnesses.
Vital Kamerhe, Congolese opposition candidate, withdrew his request on Wednesday for the presidential and parliamentary elections to be cancelled on the grounds of widespread irregularities.
The move means that both Kamerhe and veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the other serious rival standing against President Joseph Kabila, appear happy to allow the ballot count to go ahead.
Kabila's camp meanwhile accused its rivals of pre-empting official results and said security measures were being taken to contain trouble.
Three opposition candidates have called for the vote, which was plagued by delays and isolated outbreaks of violence, to be cancelled. African observer missions on Wednesday praised the poll while the US-based Carter Center raised some concerns but said it too early to make a judgement.
In a letter on Monday addressed to senior Congolese and international officials Kamerhe had called for the poll to be annulled due to irregularities.
However, two days later and after results had started being published, Kamerhe, a former speaker of parliament and minister of Kabila's, told journalists there had been improvements in voting conditions during election day.
"At this moment, we are not calling for the cancellation of the results," Kamerhe said, adding that results should be widely published as they are collated, to avoid fraud.
Kamerhe said he and Tshisekedi had considered joining others calling for the poll to be cancelled but had decided against it because witnesses had been allowed into polling stations and voters themselves controlled alleged efforts at ballot-stuffing.
Monday's elections were accompanied by violence in which at least eight people died, shortages of voting materials and confusion over voter lists.
The African Union on Wednesday urged candidates to accept the outcome, saying they were well managed despite technical problems and violence. The AU and other African observer missions have rejected the calls for the vote to be cancelled.
Tshisekedi's camp has said early indications from polling stations suggest he is in the lead, and Tshisekedi conspicuously failed to join the call of other candidates for an annulment.
Evariste Boshab, secretary general of the ruling PPRD party, accused Tshisekedi's camp of pre-empting results. "My smile, my confidence, is that not enough for you?" he told reporters, when asked how Kabila had fared in the vote.
"The reason that Tshisekedi and Kabila are going ahead with the process is clear: They both think they can win. Obviously, there will only be one president ... Neither side appears ready to step down without a fight," said Congo analyst and author Jason Stearns on his blog.
The George Soros-funded OSISA and Congolese observer group AETA said in a joint statement the population had voted in large numbers but there were shortcomings with organisation.
The group blamed the election commission for the problems and called for a cancellation of results and/or a re-vote in places where there were problems.
The Carter Center said it was too early to give an overall verdict on the vote or turnout.
Voting entered the third day on Wednesday in some areas. The election commission confirmed that an unspecified number of new ballot papers had been flown in from South Africa on Tuesday but rejected opposition suspicion that they would be used for fraud.