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Votes Are Being Counted In Congo's Presidential Election


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, long-delayed elections - presidential, parliamentary and provincial - were finally held yesterday. Now the questions start. Opposition presidential candidates say there were widespread irregularities. The election commission says they were minor.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton covered the vote, and she's been monitoring the count, which went on late into the night. She's with us now from the capital, Kinshasa. Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings. Greetings from a rather tense Kinshasa, I have to say, Noel.

KING: Yeah, what is going on in Kinshasa today?

QUIST-ARCTON: People are nervous, nervous because, yes, they have managed to vote finally, but nervous because they don't know what the results will be and whether the true expression of their vote will come out. So there's a ooph (ph), finally we've got there after two years waiting to get to these elections. But will there be peace after the vote? Will everyone accept the result, and they - will they be the true, credible results?

KING: Well, let's talk about who may not accept. You've reported that the opposition is not happy. They're claiming there were widespread irregularities. What are they saying happened?

QUIST-ARCTON: One of the frontrunners, opposition presidential frontrunners, Martin Fayulu, read out a long list of alleged irregularities at a very late press briefing yesterday. He says there were jammed voting machines. And these are the new voting machines from South Korea that have never been used here before.

Some jammed. Apparently some didn't work at all. And he also said the late opening of polling stations - they were meant to open at 6 in the morning - some didn't open until 1, 2 in the afternoon, missing voters' registers. So voters who were coming to vote for their president and their lawmakers couldn't find their names or had to wait for hours for these to be delivered.

Martin Fayulu always said - also said that opposition coalition observers were kicked out of polling stations when it came to the counting of the ballots. And he blames the election commission and the government for that. And then you have another opposition presidential candidate, Felix Tshisekedi, who deplored what he called disorder.

But he says that this was deliberate manipulation of election day chaos to trigger a court challenge so that President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for almost 18 years, can extend his rule. Now, analysts say of course any legal recourse to justice by the opposition would be a dead end because they would be ruled against. So you have a lot of uncertainty, a lot of nervousness.

KING: You mentioned that there were observers and that there are claims that the observers were kicked out. In these types of elections, there often are. Who was observing this election, and what are they saying?

QUIST-ARCTON: Let me tell you first who was not observing. The Carter Center observers who, you know, observe elections all over Africa - they were not invited this time. Also, the European Union, which has imposed sanctions on President Kabila's preferred successor - they were also not invited. But you had tens, 20,000, 40,000 local election observers. And they have been doing incredible work. They reported difficulties in voting.

The Catholic Church, the influential Catholic Church which has mediated between Kabila and the opposition in the past, said there were at least 1,500 serious problems, a third of them with the controversial new voting machines that I mentioned. So as I say, there is tension in the air because people don't know how this is going to end up. And of course what everybody wants to avoid is violence once the results are proclaimed.

KING: Just briefly, Ofeibea, is this an achievement for Congo? These elections finally did happen. There wasn't that much violence.

QUIST-ARCTON: A lot of people are saying it's an achievement for the Congolese because they were motivated. They were patient. They were determined. They were mature. And they were absolutely determined to vote for their new leaders. But lots of questions being asked about the organization by the electoral commission and also the intent of the outgoing government. Do they really want to have credible, transparent elections, or has there been vote rigging and manipulation as the opposition claims?

KING: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from Kinshasa, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you. Always a pleasure. And we'll see what happens here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.