Amid Disputes over Early Results in Congolese Elections, Parties Must Pursue Country’s First Peaceful Transfer of Power, Security Council Told
Despite varied disputes over preliminary voting results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all stakeholders must remain steadfast in pursuing peace ahead of the nation’s first‑ever democratic transfer of power after decades of conflict, the Security Council heard today in briefings on the political landscape and prospects ahead.
Under discussion were the largely peaceful 30 December 2018 national, provincial and presidential elections, preliminary results announced on 10 January, which put Félix Tshisekedi in first place for President, and the swift and varied reactions of some stakeholders. Providing a snapshot of developments on the ground from Kinshasa via video-teleconference, Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said millions of Congolese had shown their commitment to the political process and their determination to exercise their democratic right to vote.
“We must therefore show our collective solidarity with them as the electoral process is finalized and as the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to undertake the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history,” she said.
Summarizing the work of their respective election observation missions, the African Union’s Permanent Observer and Zambia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, who led a monitoring team for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said all stakeholders must now pursue disputes peacefully through the existing legal framework and political dialogue.
Corneille Nangaa Yobeluo, President of the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also via videoconference from Kinshasa, said it is critical for the international community to support the new authorities while relevant judicial bodies deal with any challenges. Recalling that despite difficulties and “complete and utter distrust” among all stakeholders, including the international community, the elections unfolded smoothly. Yet, it was no surprise that early results were challenged by the Catholic Church, which disputed election outcomes in 2006 and 2011, he said, stressing that the 10 January announcement was in line with the law and challenges should be addressed through relevant existing mechanisms.
Meanwhile, Marcel Utembi Tapa, Archbishop of Kisangani and President of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, recalling efforts of the Catholic Church over the years to promote democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the Electoral Commission’s preliminary results did not match its own estimates. To address the discrepancy, he asked the Electoral Commission to publish as soon as possible its data from each polling station and the Security Council to invite stakeholders to prioritize peace pending the final election outcome.
Council members raised their own concerns about health crises and sporadic violence, with many calling for calm following the milestone elections and encouraging political actors to use existing legal avenues to resolve differences. Urging the international community to conduct itself in a responsible manner, the Russian Federation’s representative said any speculation on the voting results is unacceptable, as it would generate far-reaching repercussions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and countries of the region. The Council must maintain unity to take a pacific, balanced approach in a manner that fully respects the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty, he said.
Members commended the Government, election observers and MONUSCO for their roles. Others recognized that despite facing many hurdles, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its people had made their voices heard in free and fair elections. Echoing a common view among Council members from the continent, Equatorial Guinea’s representative said all of Africa is proud of what the Congolese people have achieved.
The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the next important steps are publishing the final vote count and handling concerns about preliminary figures in a manner that conforms with the Constitution, electoral laws and existing mechanisms and institutions. In this regard, it is not wise for the international community to make demands that would supplant the primacy of these institutions, he said. It is critical that the peaceful environment seen during the elections continues during the publication of the results.
“The Democratic Republic of the Congo is drafting a new chapter in its history,” he said. Asking the international community and friendly nations to provide the necessary support for further progress on his country’s journey into a new, peaceful era, he extended thanks to regional and international partners for their critical assistance in the past.
Also delivering statements were representatives of France, China, Belgium, United States, Peru, Germany, Poland, Kuwait, Indonesia, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic.
The meeting began at 9:38 a.m. and ended at 12:28 p.m.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), speaking via video-teleconference from Kinshasa, focused her remarks on the elections that had been scheduled for 23 December 2018, but which finally took place on 30 December 2018. Voting took place throughout the country, with the exception of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu and Yumbi in Maï Ndombe where it was postponed until March 2019 by the Independent National Electoral Commission for health and security reasons. Millions of Congolese cast ballots, often with passion, and in most cases, peacefully, to choose their future President as well as national and provincial legislators.
She said that all national and international election observer missions, as well as MONUSCO teams, stated in their preliminary reports that voting took place properly despite technical, logistical and security issues that did not interfere with the free circulation of citizens and their ability to vote. The three-day wait for preliminary results was equally calm, she said, stating that she was deeply impressed by the patience shown by the Congolese people who were vividly aware of what was at stake. During those three days, she met with the outgoing President and the principal stakeholders to emphasize the need to maintain calm. She noted that the preliminary results, published by the Electoral Commission, put Félix Tshisekedi in first place, followed by Martin Fayulu and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
Reactions to the Electoral Commission’s preliminary results were swift and varied, she said. Mr. Tshisekedi pledged to be President for all Congolese, and the Front Commun pour le Congo said it would respect the outcome, but the Lumuka coalition denounced what it called electoral fraud. Serious security incidents were reported in several locations, including violent and fatal protests and destruction of property, she said, deploring such acts and appealing for the Congolese people and security forces to exercise calm and restraint.
She concluded by saying that, pending the announcement of the final results by the Constitutional Court, the coming days will be critical, with the possible contestation of the provisional results as well as a judicial review. She said she will keep engaging with all stakeholders to reinforce the need for calm and recourse to established judicial procedures, while emphasizing the need for a supreme sense of responsibility to prevail. Millions of Congolese had shown their commitment to the political process and their determination to exercise their democratic right to vote, she stated, adding: “We must therefore show our collective solidarity with them as the electoral process is finalized and as the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to undertake the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.”
CORNEILLE NANGAA YOBELUO, President of the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also speaking via video‑teleconference from Kinshasa, elaborated on the electoral process, saying it had been carried out amid tremendous difficulties and “complete and utter distrust” among all stakeholders, including the international community. The elections had been a tremendous feat that some might regard as superhuman, yet there was not a single decision by the Electoral Commission that had not been challenged by some group or stakeholder. Even the number of registered voters, about 40 million, had been questioned, and the use of voting machines posed no problems. Many had forecast chaos, but the elections unfolded smoothly, and everyone was able to vote.
On the Electoral Commission’s provisional results, he said it was no surprise that they were challenged by the Catholic Church, which had disputed the outcome of the 2006 and 2011 votes. Acknowledging that elections are a human undertaking, and therefore imperfect, he said the fact that they had taken place was critical. Emphasizing that dozens of organizations fielded election observers, he said the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo had conducted itself as if it was acting on behalf of a political party. He emphasized that the Electoral Commission announced the provisional results in line with the law, and that any challenges should be addressed through the relevant mechanisms. He went on to underscore that the elections demonstrated the Congolese people’s wish not to have constitutional change, nor to have a third mandate for the outgoing President, who did not put forward his candidature. Moreover, the coming weeks will see the country’s first handover of power at the highest level since independence, and it is critical for the international community to support the new authorities while relevant judicial bodies deal with any challenges.
FATIMA KYARI MOHAMMED, Permanent Observer for the African Union, highlighting its strengthened partnership with the United Nations, said efforts have focused on reaching the required political consensus for holding free, fair and transparent elections to consolidate gains made over past decades. Providing a snapshot of the African Union observer mission to monitor the 30 December 2018 elections, he said 23 teams visited 317 polling stations as a sample of the 75,000 voting locations across the country, including in areas where voting was postponed due to security and health concerns. Most stations opened on time, were adequately staffed and equipped with material, and predominantly operated in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, other than isolated incidents and shortcomings. Closing and tallying operations complied with the existing legal framework. The mission strongly stated that results should reflect the will of the people, the Congolese stakeholders should preserve the climate of peace that prevailed during voting and that any challenge to the results should be channelled through the existing legal framework.
Given that the results have been challenged, she said concerns must be addressed peacefully, through existing legal avenues and political dialogue. The December 2018 elections were a watershed in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the people and institutions should be commended for their efforts. Now, stakeholders owe it to their people and country to act in a manner that fosters democracy and preserves peace. The current situation calls for as large a consensus as possible based on respect for democracy, human rights and the consolidation of peace. “It is our earnest hope that the Security Council, as it has done before, will extend full support to the African-led efforts to assist the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its people successfully complete the electoral process, deepen democracy and preserve peace,” she said.
JOSEPH MALANJI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Zambia, summarized findings of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) electoral observation mission, which he led. Areas facing security threats and an Ebola virus outbreak postponed elections until March 2019 and isolated incidences of violence created an element of tension leading up the 30 December 2019 voting day. The Government, the Electoral Commission and all stakeholders successfully managed the elections. The Government’s involvement demonstrated its strong support for the democratic process. Referring to the provisional results, he said some stakeholders are now raising concerns, which is well within their rights. As such, SADC calls upon stakeholders with concerns to pursue disputes peacefully through the existing legal framework and through political dialogue.
MARCEL UTEMBI TAPA, Archbishop of Kisangani and President of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, recalled the efforts made by the Catholic Church over the years to promote democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including mediation in the dialogue that led to the New Year’s Eve Agreement of 2016. For the recent elections, it fielded nearly 40,000 accredited observers, with at least one present at each polling station, ensuring 100 per cent coverage. The data they collected was transmitted by mobile telephone networks or via satellite telephones to a national call centre. While it worked closely with other accredited observer missions, including the Church of Christ in Congo, the National Episcopal Conference is independent of all parties and political platforms and gets no funding from them, he emphasized.
He explained that, to monitor the election results, the National Episcopal Conference conducted a parallel vote count, based on a representative sample of about 11 per cent of all voting stations, both rural and urban, providing a margin of error of 1 per cent and a confidence rate of 95 per cent. Its observers reported a significant turnout, he stated. Regarding the provisional results from the Electoral Commission, he said the National Episcopal Conference took note of them but concluded that they did not match the findings of its own data. Urging the United Nations to show solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he called on the Electoral Commission to publish as soon as possible its data from each polling station. Doing so would dispel any doubts about the results and put minds at rest, he said, also asking the Security Council to invite stakeholders to prioritize peace pending the final outcome.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the international community will always remember the image of Congolese queueing for hours to exercise their right to freely choose their representatives. However, the process is not over, he said, with detailed results of the presidential elections and the outcome of the legislative polls still pending. It is critical for any challenges to the results to be carried out peacefully through established legal procedures and political dialogue. He called for calm, a sense of responsibility and the fostering of national consensus based on democratic principles and human rights. Describing the elections as a milestone for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he said France stands alongside the Congolese people and nation going forward. He went on to propose that the Security Council promptly adopt a press statement that would welcome the election and call on the parties to forge a national consensus in a peaceful and legal manner.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said that despite alarmist predictions, the Congolese people have shown their ability to overcome challenges. All of Africa is proud of what they have achieved. Equatorial Guinea appeals to all political stakeholders, as well as the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at this crucial juncture to maintain calm and demonstrate restraint, prudence, caution and moderation. Any complaints should be pursued through appropriate legal institutions, thus opening the door to a peaceful handover of power to the winning candidate as per the Constitution. Regional and international players must meanwhile refrain from any actions or statements that might sway the development of events, she said, emphasizing that the Congolese people must take the reins of their destiny into their own hands. She concluded by saying that every Congolese must put the national interest first, adding that the elections should not be viewed as a zero-sum game.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the elections represent an important step following decades of instability and conflict. Noting postponements of voting in areas affected by security and health concerns, he commended the work of observer missions in monitoring the process. Trusting that Congolese authorities will foster the necessary calm required to resolve election concerns, he rejected any pressure being placed on the Electoral Commission. Urging the international community to conduct itself in a responsible manner, he said any speculation on the voting results is unacceptable, as it would generate far-reaching repercussions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and countries of the region. The Council must maintain unity to take a calm and balanced approach in a manner that fully respects the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s sovereignty.
MA ZHAOXU (China), commending the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Electoral Commission for their efforts, said the country is at a historic juncture ahead of a peaceful transfer of power. The Congolese people and Government have the ability to resolve concerns themselves. For its part, the international community must show full respect for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Electoral Commission while continuing to assist authorities in their related efforts. He encouraged MONUSCO to continue with its important mandate. Turning to several concerns, he called for vigorous support to address the humanitarian situation, including in helping authorities to manage the Ebola virus outbreak.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said the historic peaceful transfer of power and the recent elections represent a crucial step to consolidate national and regional peace, security and inclusive, sustainable development. Despite many shortcomings, the electoral process was calm and represents the will of the people. Given the concerns raised about the preliminary election results, his delegation anticipated clarification on issues flagged by civil society groups. Stakeholders must speak out as to whether the results truly reflect the voice of the people, he said, also commending the work of election observer missions from the region. However, the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo has said data collected at polling stations does not match results tallied by the Electoral Commission. Transparency must clarify this disturbing statement, he said, also raising concerns that during the electoral period, reports indicated Internet access disruptions and restrictions on media coverage. Calling on all stakeholders to remain steadfast in peacefully resolving electoral concerns, he said Belgium remains committed to assisting the Democratic Republic of the Congo in tackling health and security challenges, including managing the Ebola outbreak and ending impunity, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the spread of armed groups.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), underscoring his country’s appreciation for MONUSCO’s work, said the millions of Congolese who went to the polls last week had shown the world that they have a voice. The United States stands with them, he said, emphasizing that they are the ones who should determine their country’s future. Urging all sides to refrain from violence, he said the United States stands prepared to hold accountable those who undermine the democratic process. Noting that the east of the country remains confronted by armed group activity and an Ebola outbreak, he said that Congolese in that region should nevertheless be able to vote by March as the Electoral Commission has announced.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) called for a peaceful and orderly handover of power, in line with the Constitution. Any potential or future challenges must be pursued in a peaceful way, within the framework of relevant institutions and legislation. For its part, the Security Council must remain united in supporting the Democratic Republic of the Congo in this post-electoral phase. He noted ongoing insecurity in the east of the country, exacerbated by an Ebola outbreak that has so far killed around 370 people. He went on to undermine the importance of international and regional organizations keeping a watchful eye on the electoral process and to help overcome any deadlocks that might arise.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said this is truly an historic moment for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one that demonstrates the maturity of the Congolese people. Taking note of the provisional results, as well as the fact that they have been contested by the opposition and civil society, he called on all sides to maintain calm and refrain from violence. What is needed now is full transparency, with an end to the blockade of the Internet and for the Electoral Commission to release detailed results from polling stations and vote compilation centres. Once those results are published, challenges must be handled through established legal procedures and a political dialogue that will create trust between the parties. He concluded by supporting the representative of France’s call for a press statement that would demonstrate Council unity on the issue.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) called upon the Electoral Commission to publish data from all local results’ centres in accordance with electoral law as the most important way of addressing concerns about transparency and legitimacy. She expressed hope that the elections will constitute an important step in the consolidation of peace, stability and democracy, launching a period of peaceful transition and necessary reform. She urged all political and civil society actors to explain any doubts through dialogue, calling on them to use legal channels. Peaceful assemblies should not be restricted and no violence should be tolerated towards the peaceful expression of public opinion. Sharing the African Union’s view, she said the situation required a genuine national consensus based on respect for democratic principles and human rights.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), commending the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Electoral Commission and observer missions present during the elections, called on all stakeholders to demonstrate their responsibilities. In addition, all parties must refrain from violence as the Democratic Republic of the Congo moves into the next crucial political stage. He expressed hope that the Electoral Commission, courts, authorities and civil society will work together to lead to the realization of the people’s aspirations. Turning to the security landscape, he said MONUSCO is playing its role in protecting civilians. He called on all parties to exercise restraint during this sensitive political situation. Raising humanitarian concerns, he said efforts must be boosted to address the spread of Ebola, continuing armed violence and the high numbers of internally displaced persons.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said all stakeholders must exercise maximum restraint in their actions and statements and respect the democratic process of the elections, seizing this positive momentum to consolidate stability in the country and create an environment conducive for development. Deeply concerned about the continued presence of domestic and foreign armed groups, including a recent attack on a military post in Beni, he said the Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered for far too long from recurring cycles of conflict, persistent tensions and the unnecessary loss of civilian lives. Noting that the root causes include the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources, he said implementing the peace, security and cooperation framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region holds the key to building confidence among countries and promoting stability. For its part, the international community must provide sustainable development and humanitarian assistance to those in need, particularly given the Ebola virus outbreak. MONUSCO is doing critical and commendable work, including in protecting civilians and supporting disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, he said, adding that Indonesia is one of the largest troop-contributing countries to the Mission, with 1,039 personnel.
LÉON HOUADJA KACOU ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) urged all stakeholders to safeguard a climate of peace while awaiting final election results, pursuing existing legal avenues to address their concerns. However, these political realities should not detract the Council from addressing the humanitarian and security situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including recent reports of armed groups attacking civilians. As such, the Council should continue to support MONUSCO and its efforts to help authorities tackle security challenges.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said the Council’s involvement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been one of the most protracted in the United Nations history. Noting that the country, nearly 60 years after independence from Belgian colonial rule, is bigger than Western Europe, he said the challenge to organize elections was enormous. He emphasized that the Electoral Commission is the only authority that can pronounce on the outcome of the elections. It must be accorded the right to do so, with its actions and declarations respected by all, especially the Security Council. He called on all parties to maintain the generally peaceful climate seen during the elections and to take up any disputes through the proper mechanisms. For its part, he added, Council members must ensure that their words and actions contribute to the collective will and aspirations of the Congolese people.
Describing the Democratic Republic of the Congo as rich, but its people as poor, he conveyed his country’s concern about the illicit exploitation of its natural resources. South Africa expects the Council to be at the forefront of efforts to sustain a peaceful and stable environment, and to discourage any violence, thus facilitating a historic transfer of power. Ongoing support from the United Nations, African Union, SADC and others is needed to consolidate peace and stability, he said, underscoring, as well, MONUSCO’s role in providing logistical support and containing the spread of Ebola. He concluded by emphasizing that the international community must not lose sight of the need to address the root causes of conflict, which requires recognition of the nexus between development and peace. He also urged the Council to mobilize the Peacebuilding Commission and to continue supporting the Congolese people with a balanced and measured approach.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said the number of briefers today testified to the importance of the issue. This is a critical moment in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and there is a lot at stake, she said, adding that the most important thing is for the democratic will of the Congolese people to be respected. To that end, it is critical for both voting data and methodology to be examined, she said, requesting more detail from both the Electoral Commission and National Episcopal Conference. Like others, the United Kingdom wants to know if the Electoral Commission can publish local-level results. She went on to stress the importance of ensuring that the Congolese people see a process that delivers what they voted for, with disagreements handled through proper channels.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), Council President for January, speaking in his national capacity, said the incoming Government must enjoy the highest degree of consensus and support. All stakeholders must ensure that the final election results faithfully reflect the decision of the majority of Congolese, he said, expressing his hope for a peaceful handover of power that respects the Constitution. He added that the Dominican Republic trusts that political stakeholders and leaders will give priority to national stability, and that the injection of fresh blood into the political life of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will herald a new era of open dialogue while forging an inclusive nation that can deliver stability to the entire Central African region.
IGNACE GATA MAVITA WA LUFUTA (Democratic Republic of the Congo), extending gratitude to the Council for supporting his country’s efforts to restore peace and stability, summarized the current political landscape and the horizon ahead. The Government recognized the elections as an important threshold, despite delays until March due to health and security concerns in certain areas. The next important steps are publishing the final vote count and handling concerns about preliminary figures in a manner that conforms to the Constitution, electoral laws and existing mechanisms and institutions. In this regard, it is not wise for the international community to make demands that would supplant the primacy of these institutions.
The results should not “add fuel to the fire”, he said, but should lead to all stakeholders showing restraint up until the announcement of the final election results and the historic handover of power. It is critical that the peaceful environment seen during the elections continues during the publication of the results. He commended the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Joseph Kabila Kabange, who respected the Constitution in steering the country through free and fair elections, and the Government and Electoral Commission for their important roles. He noted that the electoral cycle should continue, calling on stakeholders to play their part in the successful culmination of this process.
Turning to humanitarian and security concerns, he raised alarm over outbreaks of violence, including flourishing terrorist groups that are launching attacks against Government forces and United Nations peacekeepers in Beni and Butembo. Pointing to the Secretary-General’s report on MONUSCO collaborating with armed groups to free recruited children in Ituri and Kivu, he wondered how the Mission could work with the same groups the Government was trying hard to eradicate. In addition, the Government is focusing on addressing the needs of populations displaced by these armed groups. Other concerns include the resurgence of certain diseases, with authorities working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the Ebola virus outbreak.
Even with these challenges, the country is poised to enter a new era, he said. “The Democratic Republic of the Congo is drafting a new chapter in its history,” he said. Asking the international community and friendly nations to provide the necessary support for further progress on his country’s journey into a new, peaceful era, he extended thanks to regional and international partners for their critical assistance in the past.
Mr. NANGAA, taking the floor a second time, explained that the Electoral Commission announced provisional results in conformity with the law. The elections gave rise to a great deal of passion and excitement and it is inevitable that some people cannot accept that their candidate won. The provisional results may have been met with disagreement, “but that is democracy,” he said, affirming that what matters is that the country remains calm. If there was no broad level of support for the Electoral Commission, “Kinshasa would be in flames”, he added. Responding to requests from Council members for local-level results, he said he cannot make a commitment that goes against the law. Such information can be provided to no one other than the Constitutional Court.
Speaking as a Congolese citizen, he added that the elections took place under difficult circumstances across a vast country. “You cannot clean a house overnight, but we have done the best we can,” he said, adding that elections are never perfect, as demonstrated by the recent polls in the United States. These had been the best elections ever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, given the circumstances, and the time has come to move to the next stage — the inauguration of a new President and installation of national and provincial assemblies — once the Constitutional Court confirms the final election results.
Mr. HEUSGEN (Germany), taking the floor a second time, asked that Mr. Nangaa clarify whether results from individual polling stations must be published.
Mr. NANGAA explained that, once the 11-hour voting period had ended, the 72,000 polling stations across the country turned into compilation centres, manually counting all ballots, including those cast with voting machines. Those results were then posted on a piece of paper that anyone could just rip off the wall, he added. In the case of the presidential vote, he added, results were transmitted to a central location that produced a final figure, with details to be provided later to the courts.