DR Congo’s top court Sunday declared Felix Tshisekedi president after disputed elections, outraging opponents who alleged a stitch-up as an African Union delegation prepared to head to the volatile country.
Announcing the final results of the much-delayed poll, the Constitutional Court threw out a legal challenge by runner-up Martin Fayulu.
It declared Tshisekedi the winner, paving the way for him to take over from long-term leader Joseph Kabila.
The chairman of the African Union, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, was due in Kinshasa on Monday after it and other international bodies voiced concern over the results.
Fayulu alleges ‘coup’
Fayulu has described the outcome as an “electoral coup”.
He has alleged that Tshisekedi promised to protect Kabila’s political and financial interests in return for helping ensure his victory.
Fayulu called on world powers to reject the results, declaring himself “the only legitimate president”.
“I ask the entire international community not to recognise a power that has neither legitimacy nor legal standing to represent the Congolese people,” he said of Tshisekedi.
Doubts over vote result
Tshisekedi’s victory was provisionally announced earlier this month by the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) but it was challenged both at home and abroad.
On Sunday, the Constitutional Court, which is made up of Kabila’s allies, said Fayulu’s claims were “unfounded”.
It said he had failed to prove any inaccuracies in the figures, describing his call for a recount as “absurd”.
“Only the CENI has produced authentic and sincere results,” judge Noel Kilomba said.
The court went on to declare Tshisekedi as the “President of the Democratic Republic of Congo by simple majority”.
The Financial Times and other foreign media have reported seeing documents that confirm Fayulu as the winner.
The influential Roman Catholic Church, which says it deployed 40,000 observers to monitor the poll, has also dismissed the official outcome.
Fears of bloodbath
The electoral commission had previously scheduled the swearing-in of the next president for Tuesday.
Awaiting Sunday’s court announcement, Hundreds of supporters of Tshisekedi gathered outside the court holding placards saying “No to interference” and “Independent country” as riot police stood nearby.
Leader of the country’s oldest and biggest opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, 55-year-old Tshisekedi has never held high office.
The dispute has raised fears that the political crisis that began when Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutional term in office two years ago could turn into a bloodbath.
“If the court declares Tshisekedi victor, the risk of isolation would be enormous and untenable for a country positioned right in the middle of the continent,” Adeline Van Houtte of the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote on Twitter.
The vast country lived through two regional wars in 1996-97 and 1998-2003. The previous two elections, in 2006 and 2011, were marred by bloody clashes.
AU options limited
At a summit on Thursday, AU leaders said there were “serious doubts” about the election figures and called for the final results to be delayed.
DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende had snubbed the demand, saying: “I don’t think it is the business of the government or even of the African Union to tell the court what it should do.”
Ahead of Kagame’s visit, the European Union said it joined the AU in inviting “all the Congolese players to work constructively with this delegation to find a post-electoral solution which respects the Congolese people’s vote”.
Before Sunday’s announcement by the court, the AU had announced its plan to send its commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat and Kagame to DR Congo on Monday.
Observers warned Kagame’s options were limited.
He is viewed with suspicion in DR Congo, where Rwanda is accused of backing armed groups in various uprisings and of seizing land and minerals.
Prominent DR Congo press cartoonist Thembo Kash told AFP that Kagame’s visit risked fanning tensions in the country, which does not want to see “the arsonist play at being a fireman”.