Congolese Face Tense Round 2 of Voting ; Incumbent Joseph Kabila Won Only 45 Percent in the Presidential Poll, Forcing a Runoff on Oct. 29

By Tristan McConnell Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2006 | Go to article overview

Congolese Face Tense Round 2 of Voting ; Incumbent Joseph Kabila Won Only 45 Percent in the Presidential Poll, Forcing a Runoff on Oct. 29


Tristan McConnell Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Minutes before results in Congo's presidential elections were to be announced on Sunday evening, gunfire erupted in the capital, Kinshasa. The violence, which continued into early Monday morning, was not a hopeful sign for the second round of voting that will be held on Oct. 29.

None of the 32 candidates in the country's first democratic elections in 45 years won the 50 percent necessary to avoid a presidential runoff. Incumbent Joseph Kabila won 45 percent of the vote, while his closest challenger, Jean-Pierre Bemba, won 20 percent.

Eyewitnesses from Kinshasa say that the violence was sparked by a confrontation between Mr. Kabila's elite presidential guard and Mr. Bemba's private bodyguards. Each side blames the other for making the first move. At least five people died, their bodies left on the capital's streets. Monday morning, those streets were eerily quiet except for the UN and European Union soldiers patrolling in armored personnel carriers.

The election results confirmed a stark division between the east and west of this vast central African country. Sunday night's conflagration in the capital also marks a watershed in poor relations between the presidential front-runners and is likely to usher in a bruising two-month campaign.

"The fact that you have a direct face-off between candidates whose rhetoric has been hostile in the first-round will make this a tense campaign," says Jason Stearns, senior analyst at the Brussels- based International Crisis Group.

Kabila, the young former soldier who inherited the presidency from his father following his assassination in 2001, won a landslide victory in the east, where life proceeded normally after the vote. Congolese here in the east call Kabila "Le Pacificateur," crediting him with bringing an end to years of brutal conflict in which an estimated 3.9 million people died.

In Kinshasa and elsewhere in the west, Kabila is un- popular. He speaks Swahili, the language of the east, and has only a loose grasp of Lingala, the main western language. Kabila's opponents branded him a foreigner during the campaign period.

Here, he was trounced by Bemba, a former rebel leader and the son of a wealthy businessman who made his money during the 32-year dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko. …

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