Congo: Felix Tshisekedi 'win' challenged by local Catholic church

Delaying of DRC election results announcement increases likelihood of extension of president's mandate to March

In a pre-dawn announcement, the election commission named Tshisekedi, son of the country's late veteran opposition leader, as provisional victor of the bitterly-contested December 30 vote - a surprise result his main opponent promptly denounced as an "electoral coup".

Felix Tshisekedi, the leader of the largest opposition party, has been declared the victor of the long-delayed presidential election to replace Joseph Kabila. Three diplomats briefed on the Church's mission said their findings clearly showed Fayulu had won.

The powerful religious institution deployed 40,000 election observers and is considered one of Congo's most influential and trusted institutions.

"We have also noted that these results have been contested by part of the opposition". Congo's constitutional court has 14 days to validate them.

On the other, Tshisekedi is vulnerable to a legal challenge over the validity of his Belgian diploma, which is alleged to be fake - holding a diploma is a requirement for anyone running as a presidential candidate in DR Congo.

An official from the from U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations said Tshisekedi's win might buy some temporary calm but that "the exiled and cheated will rebel", referring to ex-militia and political leaders who are backing Fayulu.

The Independent National Election Commission (CENI) gave Tshisekedi 38.57 percent of the vote, ahead of Fayulu with 34.8 percent.

"We have taken note of the provisional results of the presidential elections in Democratic Republic of Congo that were announced overnight by the electoral commission".

Fayulu said the naming of Tshisekedi was the next in a line of stolen elections.

Anti-government protests in towns and cities are likely under such delays, but of smaller size and duration than would probably occur in response to the (less likely) immediate announcement of a victory by Kabila's chosen successor or the outright invalidation of the 30 December results, which would respectively pose high and very high protest and riot risks. The United States threatened sanctions against officials who rigged the vote.

The statement released by South Africa's foreign ministry reflects pressure on Congo by regional powers who don't want to see the vast Central African nation return to widespread violence.

The government has cut internet service since the day after the election to prevent speculation on social media about who won, and blocked some radio stations.

Some Congolese tired of Kabila's 18-year rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace.

Residents of the capital, Kinshasa, said the heavy security presence was a bad sign, with some recalling the violence that followed past disputed elections.

Many Congolese objected to Shadary, suspecting that Kabila would continue to rule from behind the scenes.

Tshisekedi "is provisionally proclaimed elected as president", CENI President Corneille Nangaa said.

Now Congo faces a new leader who is little known after spending many years in Belgium and standing behind his outspoken father.

Tshisekedi inherited the leadership of his UDPS party when his father Etienne Tshisekedi died in 2017. He was less visible in campaigning than Fayulu and did not make himself available to reporters after the vote.

"Felix Tshisekedi has been nominated by Mr Kabila to perpetrate the Kabila regime".

Results of parliamentary elections, which were held alongside the presidential vote, are expected on Friday evening and the pro-Kabila majority are already claiming to have won the house.

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