Opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi has secured a surprise victory in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s presidential election, according to the country’s electoral commission.

The results came early Thursday in the Central African country, after nearly two weeks of speculation and reports of irregularities in the December 30 vote. If deemed legitimate, this would be the country’s first democratic transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

The election had always been a three-horse race. The other two contenders were former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the preferred successor of President Joseph Kabila, and businessman Martin Fayulu.

The electoral commission (CENI) announced around 3 a.m. (0200 GMT) that opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, 55, had won the Dec. 30 vote, edging out Fayulu to second place

Fayulu has however called the results an “electoral coup” engineered by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to deny him the presidency.

Fayulu said he categorically rejected the outcome and called for the release of the name “of the person who really was our people’s choice.” His comments were echoed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said the election results did not match what was witnessed during the vote count.

France said the outcome was at odds with tallies provided by observers from the Catholic Church. These showed Fayulu winning, according to three diplomats briefed on the findings.

Publicly, the church said its tally did not match official results.

Anger over the results, and particularly the Fayulu camp’s suspicions that Tshisekedi won by cutting a power-sharing deal with Kabila, could cast a cloud over what is meant to be Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in 59 years of independence.

Tshisekedi’s camp has acknowledged contact with Kabila’s representatives since the election but said they were aimed at ensuring a peaceful transition and denied a deal.

In contrast to previous polls, election officials did not provide a regional breakdown of the results.

Reaction across the country was mixed.

In the town of Kikwit, 500 km (310 miles) from the capital Kinshasa, early on Thursday, security forces opened fire after crowds attacked symbols of government. At least two people died in the melee, a local journalist and a U.N. source said.

There were celebrations in parts of Kinshasa and the south of the country, where Tshisekedi has broad support. Towns in Katanga, the eastern mining heartland, were calm.

But protests were reported in the central town of Kisangani, and Fayulu supporters vented their frustrations.

“We will never accept this nomination. It’s not a victory for Felix. CENI has appointed him,” said Georges Bingi, a member of Fayulu’s party in the eastern city of Goma.

Fayulu can appeal the results to Congo’s constitutional court but has not yet indicated whether he will. By contrast, the campaign of Kabila’s hand-picked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who finished a distant third, conceded.

Of course we are not happy as our candidate lost, but the Congolese people have chosen, and democracy has triumphed,” Shadary spokesman Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told Reuters.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office issued a measured response Thursday to the vote, commending “all parties and stakeholders in the DRC for ensuring peace and stability during the election processes.” The statement did not congratulate Tshisekedi or mention the reported irregularities.

Either way, the stage now seems set for the exit of Kabila, who has ruled the resource-rich nation with an iron fist since 2001.


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