Kabila’s lead in runoff appears insurmountable
KINSHASA, Congo – Congo’s incumbent president has won a tense runoff, nearly complete election results showed Tuesday. He now has to make order out of the chaos that long has plagued a country bursting with natural resources and former warlords.First Joseph Kabila, 35, must placate rival Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former rebel leader whose fighters have clashed with his in downtown Kinshasa twice over election results.Bemba’s supporters issued a bellicose statement Tuesday saying their count gave Bemba a lead of more than 52 percent, which would mean he had won, and calling the official vote count an “electoral holdup.”They threatened to tear up accords promising not to use military force to resolve disputes about the Oct. 29 runoff.Kabila’s lead seemed insurmountable, with results from 90 percent of votes published on the election commission Web site giving him nearly 60 percent to Bemba’s 40 percent.No official announcement was expected while the commission completes its investigations into fraud complaints lodged by Bemba’s camp.The hints at violence, fraud allegations and criticism of the process were ominous in a country hoping to finally turn the page on brutal colonial rule, rapacious dictatorship and years of conflict. If Kabila is declared the winner, as seemed likely, he will face the enormous challenge of unifying a country with little sense of nationhood and little experience of resolving differences through politics.”I ask the international community to abstain from all attempts to impose on the people of Congo he whom they have not chosen as their president,” Cardinal Frederic Etsou, the top cleric in a country where the Catholic Church is the strongest institution, said in an interview with Radio France Internationale.Belgian colonizers and former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko used force to keep the country of 200 tribes who speak a half dozen languages together.The incumbent’s father, Laurent Kabila, was propelled to power in 1997 as head of a rebel force that rose up against Mobutu but was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001.The youthful Kabila, who has led a transitional government since 2001, has managed to convince foreign governments he is capable of governing, but that can raise suspicions among a people wary of outsiders meddling after decades of colonialism and a war that saw neighboring countries fighting for a share of Congo’s natural resources. Many Congolese believe that the international community through the U.N., which has a large peacekeeping force and helped with the elections here, was determined to see Kabila win.Bemba’s camp has charged “systematic cheating” in the count.”All we want is that the truth of the ballot comes out of these elections, which we have worked to make free, democratic and transparent,” Bemba said in a televised address Monday night.The Central African country’s electoral commission said it disproved one of Bemba’s first charges – that official results from a southern town didn’t match those posted at the polling station. The commission said an investigation confirmed the results and noted that witnesses from Bemba’s party signed off on figures that matched those posted on an official Web site.Kabila’s representatives have not commented on the fraud allegations. But Abbe Apollinaire Malu Malu, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, has insisted on his commission’s honesty, saying “no one has proof to say otherwise.” He said Bemba officials checking the count were incapable of reading complicated spreadsheets.Congo’s people have never known prosperity. Today the average Congolese struggles to feed a family on the equivalent of 27 cents a day, one in five youngsters doesn’t live beyond the age of 5 and most Congolese die by age 50.Congo, the size of western Europe, has only a few hundred miles of paved roads, despite being a country with more mineral resources than half the continent and enough water to provide hydroelectric power from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt.Those riches have bred corruption that pervades every aspect of life, a systemic looting rooted over the decades in the highest echelons of power in the nation of more than 50 million people.Kabila himself has been accused by a parliamentary commission of illegally selling concessions including some of the richest copper and cobalt mines in the world to the benefit of foreign companies with little profit to the country.Kabila has pledged to fight corruption but made no public comment on the commission’s allegation.—On the Web:The Independent Electoral Commission, http://www.cei-rdc.cd
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