Congo election: Felix Tshisekedi declared victor in contentious result

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Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has been declared the victor of the long-delayed presidential election, the electoral commission announced early Thursday to the surprise of many, as the vast country braced for possible protests over alleged rigging.

President Joseph Kabila is scheduled to leave office this month after 18 years in power - and two years after the official end of his mandate.

Democratic Republic of Congo Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi. Some observers have suggested that President Joseph Kabila's government sought to make a deal as hopes faded for a win for ruling party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

The other main opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu - who was tipped as the favourite in pre-election opinion polls - came second.

Voting regulations prohibit anyone but the electoral commission from announcing results.

As Congo anxiously awaits the outcome of the presidential election, many in the capital say they are convinced that the opposition won and that the delay in announcing results is allowing manipulation in favour of the ruling party. Fayulu got 6.37 million ballots, while Shadary obtained 4.36 million, he said. The influential Catholic Church, which deployed 40,000 observers during the vote and has been monitoring the polls, warned that there had been irregularities. 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.

He blamed the delay on opposition parties' insistence that results be counted by hand and not transmitted electronically via voting machines, which Congo used for the first time. Kabila has promised a peaceful transition of power.

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Tshisekedi, 55, garnered 7.05 million votes, the electoral commission, known as CENI, said in provisional results broadcast on state television Thursday in the capital, Kinshasa.

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

"The results have nothing to do with the truth of the ballot box", he said in an interview with Radio France Internationale, calling on observers to publish the real results.

The opposition was weakened by internal arguments and the exclusion by the electoral commission of two political heavyweights: Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former warlord, and Moïse Katumbi, a popular tycoon.

"He said he is will to be a president for all the people of Congo and thanked Fayulu and Shadary, saying he is willing to work with them to build a better Congo", Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Kinshasa, said.

Some Congolese tired of Kabila's long rule, two turbulent years of election delays and years of conflict that killed millions of people said they simply wanted peace. "The figures compiled by the Catholic Church showed that Fayulu won an absolute majority of the votes", the AP says, citing "several diplomats briefed on the matter".