Felix Tshisekedi: Opposition leader named victor in DR Congo poll

A Congolese citizen casting his ballot using an electronic voting machine

The Democratic Republic of Congo is set to see its first handover of power in 18 years after opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was Thursday named by election officials as the provisional victor of an historic presidential poll.

The result, announced early on Thursday, means the first electoral transfer of power in 59 years of independence in the DRC.

The election itself was delayed for more than two years, sparking sometimes violent protests as people called on President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, to step aside.

Tshisekedi's father, Etienne, was a famous opposition leader under Mobutu. Speculation swirled this week that Kabila's government sought to make a deal as hopes faded for a ruling party win.

On November 11, Tshisekedi joined six other opposition leaders to rally behind a single unity candidate, Martin Fayulu, to take on Kabila's handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

"If we find that the results of the catholic church are not the same as those of the electoral commission we will know there was a change of plan", said Stephanie Wolters at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.

A CENI source and a diplomat said they expected results to be announced later on Wednesday.

The choice fuelled accusations that Kabila - concerned about possible retribution - would use Shadary to protect his interests after the vote. Election observers had reported numerous irregularities.

The result could still be appealed in the Constitutional Court.

Fellow opposition candidate Fayulu who was backed by former Katanga governor Moise Katumbi - considered a traitor by Kabila - and ex-warlord and former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, has also sounded a conciliatory tone. 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 favor of the ruling party.

"This is the coronation of a lifetime", the deputy secretary-general of Tshisekedi's party, Rubens Mikindo, said shortly after the announcement that his candidate had won, above the cheers at party headquarters.

Ahead of the election results, activist groups urged people to "be ready to massively take to the streets" if the outcome didn't match "the truth of the ballot boxes".

The head of the electoral commission, Corneille Nangaa, earlier said that the results from a number of polling stations still needed to be counted. He is known as the "people's soldier" for leading protests against President Kabila.

Spokeswoman Marie-France Idikayi tells The Associated Press that "we are waiting for the final deliberations of the electoral commission plenary session to end but the announcement room is prepared". As the electoral commission met this week, anti-riot police moved into place outside.

Shortly after the results were announced, Tshisekedi paid his respects to outgoing President Joseph Kabila, describing him as "an important political partner".

After several days of intense speculation on the outcome of the DRC's presidential elections, the country's election board, CENI, proclaimed Felix Tshisekedi the victor. About 18.3 million votes were cast, representing turnout of nearly 48 percent.

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