The Democratic Republic of Congo‘s ruling coalition has accused the country’s Catholic Church of behaving in an “irresponsible and anarchic” way after the church said it knew the winner of last Sunday’s presidential election.
The retort on Friday came a day after the Church’s bishops’ conference, known as CENCO, said its vote tallies showed a clear victory in the December 30 poll, a pronouncement widely seen as a warning to authorities against rigging the vote.
The church, which deployed some 40, 000 electoral observers, cannot say publicly who the clear winner appears to be, as Congo’s electoral regulations forbid anyone but the electoral commission CENI to announce results.
Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, an adviser to outgoing President Joseph Kabila, said the country’s ruling coalition “firmly deplores…the partisan, irresponsible and anarchic attitude of CENCO”.
Kikaya, who is also spokesman for Kabila’s hand-picked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, said the church’s comments “seriously violates not only the constitution but also the electoral law”.
One of Congo’s most powerful institutions, the church represents about 40 percent of its 80 million people.
WATCH: DRC presidential election – What you should know (2:43)
CENCO’s statement has also angered the election commission, which said the church’s announcement could incite an “uprising”.
The commission is scheduled to announce results on Sunday, but it has said that there could be delays because of the slow arrival of tally sheets.
The opposition, represented by its two main candidates, Martin Fayulu and Felix Tshisekedi, say the poll was marred by serious irregularities. But the government says the election was fair and went smoothly.
All three major players – Fayulu, Tshisekedi and Shadary – have claimed they are on course to win, without posting specific figures.
‘Reflect people’s will’
The poll is meant to lead to Congo’s first democratic transfer of power, but the international community has raised concerns that a disputed result could spark unrest, as was the case after the 2006 and 2011 elections.
On Friday, the European Union issued a statement urging authorities in the central African country to ensure “the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people’s votes”.
The African Union made a similar appeal earlier this week.
The United States has also urged the electoral commission to publish accurate results, and threatened sanctions against anyone who sought to undermine the process.
Kabila’s government cut access to the internet as well as Radio France Internationale (RFI) and some local media this week, saying it wanted to prevent fake results from circulating.
The United Nations’ human rights office warned on Friday that the move could cause a violent backlash when results are announced.
“This being a very sensitive, a very tense period, we are concerned that these efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when the results are announced,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.
“We are watching carefully and we are calling on all sides to refrain from the use of violence,” she said.
An election dispute could further destabilise Congo’s volatile eastern provinces, where wars around the turn of the century resulted in millions of deaths, most from hunger and disease, and where dozens of militia remain active.
Pre-election opinion polls showed Shadary trailing Fayulu and Tshisekedi, who have been buoyed by rising dissatisfaction with Kabila’s tenure.
Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father in 2001, helped reunify the country amid civil war and has presided over strong economic growth, driven by exports of copper and cobalt, a component of electric car batteries.
But critics say there has been little improvement in the quality of life for average Congolese and accuse the government of brutally suppressing dissent.