By: Ange Kasongo
KINSHASA (Reuters) -Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday rejected two legal challenges to the provisional results of a contested presidential election last month and declared President Felix Tshisekedi the final winner.
The verdict paves the way for Tshisekedi to serve another five years as head of Africa’s second-largest country and the world’s top producer of cobalt and other prized industrial commodities.
The Constitutional Court validated the incumbent’s victory despite independent observers’ reports of widespread irregularities during and after the December vote that have led the main opposition candidates to call for a re-run and allege fraud.
Logistical mishaps, a last-minute extension of voting and a murky tabulation process have stoked ongoing disputes that threaten to further destabilise the poverty-stricken but mineral-rich nation.
Only one opposition presidential contender out of 18, Theodore Ngoyi, took the matter to court after provisional results gave Tshisekedi more than 73% of the vote. One citizen also filed an appeal.
Tshisekedi’s main opponents, including runner-up candidate Moise Katumbi, have refused to challenge the vote count in court, citing a lack of trust in state institutions.
“Our position remains the same: we did not witness credible elections,” opposition candidate Martin Fayulu said after the verdict.
“We reject the results announced without basis by the Constitutional Court,” he said, adding that Tshisekedi had no legitimacy.
Katumbi spokesman Herve Diakiese accused the court of covering up cheating and fraud with a “legal varnish”.
The Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that irregularities could not have impacted election results because there was such a big gap between Tshisekedi and Katumbi, who won around 18% of votes.
“Even when taking reported irregularities and their influence on the ballot into account, the order of arrival is not disrupted,” the court’s president, Dieudonne Kamuleta, said.
He said Ngoyi, who won around 0.02% of votes, did not have evidence to back his claim that the counting process had undermined the ballot’s fairness.
Ngoyi said he was sorry electoral laws did not tackle this “shameful situation”.
The opposition had previously called for the election to be annulled, citing “massive fraud”, and urged the international community not to recognize the provisional results.
The government and the electoral commission have said the election was free and fair despite the irregularities and rejected demands for a full re-run.
The coordinator of Congo’s Symocel observer mission, Luc Lutala, said he did not know on what basis the court verified the results.
Congo’s former coloniser Belgium congratulated Tshisekedi for his victory and encouraged the electoral commission to pursue investigations into the election’s irregularities.
(Reporting by Ange Kasongo and Sonia Rolley; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Chris Reese, Bill Berkrot and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)